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The Endgame of Postmodernism

Post #1448 • January 29, 2010, 11:59 AM • 93 Comments

Lest anyone conclude from yesterday's comments that Big Red & Shiny primarily features rhetorical sides of barns for one to shoot at, I give you The Endgame of Postmodernism by Matthew Nash. Matt is a friendly acquaintance who, despite working in a wildly different mode than mine, if not diametrically opposite, has invited me to write for BRS and has gone out of his way to praise my painting given an opportunity to do so. "Endgame" takes a critical look at postmodernism from the standpoint of a practitioner, thus demonstrating a self-aware, self-critical view that I have not seen evinced with equal veracity by any postmodernist academic. Do I agree with all of it? Hardly. But it contains some interesting thoughts, and links at the end to another worthy read, Greg Cook's exhortation to his fellow Bostonians to stir it up. Boston, in some ways, reminds me of Miami before Art Basel Miami Beach: self-consciously next-best, and raw enough to reward sustained but not heroic applications of elbow grease. ABMB ruined that vibe - Miami is now unconsciously next-best and the to-hell-with-it attitude has given way to a kind of half-assed professionalization that climaxes around ABMB and spends the rest of the year building up to it. (There are exceptions, I realize, and there need to be more of them.) Boston still has potential, and the whole six-state region is loaded with unsung talent.

Big Red & Shiny, in fact, is what the Miami Art Exchange tried to be when I started it back in 2000: a self-published, community-supported online publication that provided criticism and news to offset the ever-declining coverage by the local print publications. BRS has now published issue #124, which represents 124 continuous weeks of publication. MAEx may have been ahead of its time, in retrospect, but it never achieved anything like what BRS has accomplished.

Back in late 2007 I began a review of a John Sloan exhibition by noting a particularly raucous party:

Imagine it: New York City, January 23, 1917. John Sloan, Marcel Duchamp, and a host of creative types and oddballs stand atop the Washington Square Arch. They release balloons amidst whoops of joy and proclaim independence for the Greenwich Republic.

Much like the children of Isaac and Ishmael, the respective heirs of Sloan and Duchamp seem doomed to mutual animosity and competition for scarce resources over much of the world, but the vibe up here is different. Postmodernists don't denigrate skill, traditionalists appreciate the intellectual climate into which the postmodernists fit, and modernists win a measure recognition, or are at least not actively getting shut out of the scene like they are in Miami. And more to the point, those three categories don't hold so well up here. Everyone is invited to the party.

During a recent visit to Portland, Oregon, I got together with one of my best former students from Miami. An able figurative painter, he is also cursed with the ability to write, as John Link likes to put it about such people. The art criticism in Portland, like the rest of the world, is not great, and he thought he might try his hand at it just to shake things up. I understood only too well. I advised him instead, rather than marginalize himself for the crime of making his high standards known, to put shows together in any available space he could find and flex his verbal muscles by writing catalogues for them. Despite tossing a frag grenade into the comments of BRS yesterday, I'm thinking this morning that I should take my own advice. Let's agree to disagree and get some art out in front of the people.



Tom Hering

January 29, 2010, 1:00 PM

My understanding of "agreeing to disagree" is agreeing not to express your true opinion. Better, I think, to encourage disagreement. Because it's necessary to growth - as a person, as an artist.



January 29, 2010, 1:02 PM

Proceed with caution: This is what happens when you stir up a complacent community that is allergic to critical thinking...



January 29, 2010, 1:04 PM

... you'll have to read through the comments (although it gets rather ugly.)



January 29, 2010, 1:05 PM

This is what happens when you stir up a complacent community that is allergic to critical thinking...

You get a new building?



January 29, 2010, 1:10 PM

Oh, I see what you mean now. That's quite a windmill you're tilting at, MC.



January 29, 2010, 1:11 PM

My understanding of "agreeing to disagree" is agreeing not to express your true opinion.

My understanding is that you express your true opinion in a manner that allows you to go out and smoke a joint with the other guy afterwards.


Tom Hering

January 29, 2010, 1:26 PM

Franklin, yes, if you're both civil, reasonable people. But I haven't met too many artists who remain such when their way of doing or looking at things is questioned, or a different way is proffered. It's always worth a try, though.



January 29, 2010, 1:41 PM

Express your opinion and then smoke a joint? Well, as long as you don't try to do it the other way around.



January 29, 2010, 1:52 PM

Even that might not be the worst thing.


Tom Hering

January 29, 2010, 2:00 PM

Unless by "the other way around" Tim meant putting the lit end between your lips.



January 29, 2010, 2:06 PM

Or you could smoke an opinion, then offer a joint.



January 29, 2010, 2:10 PM

But, Franklin, you may be right, because if you smoked first, you'd probably forget the opinion and even what it was you were going to opine about.


Dumb Fu

January 29, 2010, 3:16 PM

There you go, looking on the bright side again, Franklin.

(ps. I'm gonna try this new handle on for size... I think it might suit me better).


Dumb Fu

January 29, 2010, 4:05 PM

"Nineteen Eighty-four was unforgettable literature, not just a political screed, because of the way Orwell thought through the details of how his society would work. Every component of the nightmare interlocked with the others to form a rich and credible whole" the omnipresent government, the eternal war with shifting enemies, the totalitarian control of the media and private life, the Newspeak language, the constant threat of personal betrayal.
Less widely known is that the regime had a well-articulated philosophy. It is explained to Winston Smith in the harrowing sequence in which he is strapped to the table and alternately tortured and lectured by the government agent O'Brien. The philosophy of the regime is thoroughly postmodernist, O'Brien explains (without, of course, using the word)."

-Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature



January 29, 2010, 4:43 PM

It's truly astonishing that what ultimately boils down to visually worthless manifestations of tiresome, self-indulgent and largely useless mental masturbation could ever be passed off as art, let alone take over and dominate the field. Whatever the reason/s, it does not reflect well on our species.



January 29, 2010, 6:40 PM

test only



January 29, 2010, 7:33 PM

Franklin, don't get tangled up in this slough of despond, with its layering of references, defining of paradigms and shifting of contexts. It is nothing more than grim silliness, like freaky 19th C religions. It is unhealthy even to discuss this stuff.



January 29, 2010, 7:33 PM

As for Miami, its art scene has become akin to a year-long stockpiling of Viagra for the sake of a week-long artificial erection when Basel comes through town. I presume the parties involved get some satisfaction and/or gain from this practice, but from where I sit, it looks to be a predictable and mechanical affair, not unlike bad porn.



January 29, 2010, 7:37 PM

I agree with #17. Slough of despond indeed. The unsophisticated equivalent would be tar baby.



January 29, 2010, 7:58 PM

Oh, and Carl Andre can bite me. But I kinda like this:

Tanba 1
Tanba 2
Tanba 3


Chris Rywalt

January 29, 2010, 9:20 PM

I have long thought that "Let's agree to disagree" means "One of us is an idiot, and since it's not me, it must be you."



January 29, 2010, 9:37 PM

Or, Chris, maybe "I don't want to do this any more, and because I haven't wiped the floor with you yet, I'm gonna use this cliche for appearances sake so I can get outta here.

Jack, I think the piece in #20 suffers from the same thing the too beautiful one did, that is its glossy finish, which gives it a manufactured look.



January 29, 2010, 9:44 PM

Yes, Tim, I agree, but I like the brown-black combo and the gestural quality of the rim band. The black glossy glaze suggests lacquer ware, which I know little about but is also a Japanese specialty.



January 29, 2010, 10:17 PM

Now this is choice (19th century) stuff:

Shino 1
Shino 2
Shino 3
Shino 4
Shino 5


Dumb Fu

January 29, 2010, 10:23 PM

Let me just say, if he's interested, I'd like to support Franklin Einspruch for President.

Although, after watching a certain recent hour long televised political Q&A session, the one you Yanks have at the moment seems pretty damn good.



January 29, 2010, 10:57 PM

Greg Cook could likely make an indefinite amount of freelance coin by resubmitting that article to publications in virtually every city in North America, and simply replacing "Boston" with the given city name.

Same shit, many different piles.



January 29, 2010, 11:35 PM

MC, that Mack person sounds like classic cheerleader material. I bet he's in with all the right people. And that new AGA building, at least the exterior, looks like it could be the headquarters for Sports Authority or Foot Locker--somebody was trying too hard, and the strain shows.



January 29, 2010, 11:46 PM

It's kind of gotten to where I'm making a point of tuning in here regularly to look at the ceramics to which Jack is linking- terrific stuff.



January 29, 2010, 11:53 PM

Right Jack, that building looks like desperation itself, like 'I've run out of ideas, so I'm gonna make a fool of myself and see if that works.'



January 30, 2010, 1:03 AM

Come on, guys, you're not giving the architect nearly as much credit as the locals here are.

For instance, they were very impressed when, at a public lecture, he talked about how the outside of the building will take on different colours during different times of day (ie. pinkish during sunsets, black at night, etc.).
Also, during the exclusive "social media" tour, they pointed out that the snow that falls and rests on top of the structure "was intentional".He meant for it to do that! Talk about visionary. I wish I had though of... um... gravity.

Look out world! Here comes the next Bilbao (or, if not the next Bilbao, the one after that, surely...).



January 30, 2010, 8:39 AM

jack that hagi from post 13 in the last thread was high class beauty



January 30, 2010, 10:15 AM

Well, MC, sorry about the locals, but that building looks like derivative, jazzed-up hack work. It looks like some shopping-mall designer trying to be taken seriously, and he failed. I won't even ask how much the thing cost, which might be too painful for you to discuss.



January 30, 2010, 10:17 AM

Oh, and I'm pleased to see that people are realizing that pots are good for you. Among other things, they're very soothing, like cows.



January 30, 2010, 10:26 AM

I assume the Chris from #28 is not Mr. Rywalt, who's rather thick-headed about these things, or affects so being. Of course, I suppose it could be dangerous to admit appreciating Japanese ceramics if one lives in New Jersey. It's probably grounds for exile to a more civilized area.


Chris Rywalt

January 30, 2010, 11:03 AM

That was not, in fact, me, as you guessed, Jack. As far as affecting anything, I always try to be as honest as possible, so I don't do that. I do sometimes try to spare people's feelings, though. I'm not good at it but I do try.



January 30, 2010, 11:39 AM

And by the way, MC, the whole "social media" business sounds rather dubious. Unfortunately, it's precisely the sort of thing art system types would pounce on. It's a numbers game, after all.



January 30, 2010, 2:25 PM

"I advised him instead, rather than marginalize himself for the crime of making his high standards known, to put shows together in any available space he could find and flex his verbal muscles by writing catalogues for them."

Great advice Franklin. Your description of Boston also describes the place we left in '86. It's the dynamics and geographical karma of the place. No matter. The best way to proceed is to make art and find your audience.



January 30, 2010, 2:32 PM

"the slough of despond" is marvelous OP. Pilgrim's Progress. You need to pull them (us) out of the swamp F.



January 30, 2010, 3:02 PM

And of course Bunyan meant the place metaphorically, as symbolic of despair & depression brought on as the "wages of sin" (to borrow from St Paul), which is exactly what creeps upon me after reading 2 sentences if that stuff. It's deadly, like mustard gas.

Franklin needs to be warned that if you wade in to fight it it might grab you and pull you down.



January 30, 2010, 3:16 PM

As I said, it's very hard to understand how such miserable drivel ever got anywhere, let alone so far for so long. Evidently, the number of seriously stupid and/or deluded people is quite considerable, and the art field may actually have an even higher proportion of them than society at large.



January 30, 2010, 3:22 PM

The "social media" thing is highly dubious, Jack, no doubt at all about that. On that same tour, the AGA pr staff informed the assembled twitterati that the project came in "on budget and on time", without anyone ruining the feel-good moment by pointing out how many times the budget figure was increased over the course of the project (and, never mind the fact those prices were from before the recession hit), eventually rising to more than double the starting figure. And, never touching on the question of whether it was finished to spec, or whether they had to cut a few frills to stay within the final $88M ceiling.
Of course, I'm just being "critical", and that is among the harshest criticism that can be levelled around here.


Chris Rywalt

January 30, 2010, 3:36 PM

I've thought a bit about Franklin's advice -- in a sense he's been saying it a long time: Stop arguing and put up some art! I've wondered if it's something I can do. (Right now I'm in the midst of arranging a figure drawing session at my studio with everyone else in the building invited, and if I can pull that off, I'll be impressed, since I'm the least organized person I know.)

It sounds good -- my dad's got an old barn, let's put on a show! -- but I do wonder if it'd be worth the effort, especially here in New York. There's just so damned much noise, how could any signal get through? Worse, there's evidence everywhere of people trying to get their signal heard, adding even more to the noise.

The romantic in me would like to think that a pure enough, beautiful enough signal would cut through the noise like a knife and leave everyone else silent for a moment. But then I think of Paul Pott's "Nessun Dorma" or Susan Boyle's "I Dreamed a Dream" and it seems unlikely.



January 30, 2010, 3:40 PM

These people always sugarcoat and whitewash as much as they can possibly get away with, especially when there's serious shit to be covered up. It's the same in Miami, only worse. And of course one can't criticize without being accused of "sour grapes" or "reactionary" tendencies or some such convenient subterfuge. They never actually address criticism squarely if they can help it, but rather spin furiously and try to discredit the critics as crackpots or disgruntled "out-of-it" losers.



January 30, 2010, 3:43 PM

Who do you want to hear your signal, Chris? Holland Cooter?
I've set up a gallery here in Edmonton. We have regular exhibitions, of art we want to see. The people who want to see it, get to. The people who want to ignore it altogether, they do.

We're not doing it for the circle-jerkers here. We're doing it for ourselves, and for the larger community who say "never mind the bollocks: here's some art worth LOOKING at". That may be a minority, but then, it always has been.




January 30, 2010, 3:45 PM

There's just so damned much noise, how could any signal get through? Worse, there's evidence everywhere of people trying to get their signal heard, adding even more to the noise.

You're only trying to get your signal through to the people who would love your work.

In other words, what MC said.


Chris Rywalt

January 30, 2010, 4:00 PM

I just started reading Matt Nash's essay, by the way, and I fail to see so far how this is not a broad barn side at which to shoot. I can start with the generously applied typos, but the ideas so far are notso hotso, either. I mean, when someone talks about the dominance of the white male over world history, that's just extreme ignorance and prejudice talking. I expect scholars of Chinese history might have a word or two for him, to say nothing of the Copts and the Arabs.



January 30, 2010, 4:03 PM

And if the people who control the system don't like your work, regardless of whatever merit it may have, don't expect them to do anything for you, but rather the opposite. In other words, don't sit around waiting to be able to get blood from turnips, because it's not happening.


Chris Rywalt

January 30, 2010, 4:04 PM

As far as the signal to noise ratio, I understand both your points, Marc and Franklin. I just don't see even getting through to most of the people who would like what you're doing, at least not in amounts capable of supporting the venture. Maybe it's a New York-centric view: Getting anything like that going here costs a lot more than most other places, and there's a lot more noise here, too. I mean, there are hundreds upon hundreds of people trying to do exactly the same thing: Regular exhibitions of art they want to see. Seems like every day I'm getting an e-mail message from a new one.


Chris Rywalt

January 30, 2010, 4:15 PM

Finished the Nash piece. If this is indeed an accurate "critical look at postmodernism from the standpoint of a practitioner", as you say, Franklin, then the Pomoranians are more deluded than even I thought.

"As a critic, Lane Relyea [and others]...want a return to a more structured version of art because it makes it easier to define what is 'good' and what is 'bad.' More generally, the frustration with the flexibility of Postmodernism is, at its core, a hope that things will be easier to understand."

Wow, if only the major frustration with Postmodernism was that it's hard to tell what's good from what's bad.



January 30, 2010, 5:07 PM

The mere phrase "define what is "good" and 'bad'", with the pointed addition of little quote marks, is more than enough to disqualify any piece of writing from a second glance.

This stuff is toxic.



January 30, 2010, 5:07 PM

Getting anything like that going here costs a lot more than most other places, and there's a lot more noise here, too.

Which is partly why people take you rather seriously if you can make yourself heard there.

I'm neither going to defend nor attack the Nash article. Make of it what you will.



January 30, 2010, 6:44 PM

"If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere. It's up to you..."

Or, what Franklin said.



January 30, 2010, 6:48 PM

p.s. Frank Sinatra, most definitely, counts as an artist. Same with the Beatles, of course.



January 30, 2010, 6:59 PM

"This stuff is toxic." Yes, but only for those who drink the Kool-Aid. What it really is is bogus, arrant bullshit that disgraces anyone who condones it, let alone promotes or propagates it.



January 31, 2010, 10:11 AM

"Postmodernism has become the "movement" that embraces all forms of art, so what kind of work could be made that isn't Postmodern? The frustration with the floating context of contemporary art is central to the endgame, but where will that lead? Will we return, as Lane Relyea and others appear to wish, to a more structured and hierarchical form of artistic practice? Or will things continue to fracture, creating local "Yokelist" schools of thought in the face of an expanding and global art system?"

This is an interesting question - are we heading towards more structure and hierarchy or fracturing. I don't particularly see a lot of value in either "end game" or "post modernism" as concepts at this point. Postmodernism is either a meaningless catch- all phrase or an artificial structure used to define a specific time and place - a placeholder. And to say we are in an endgame seems more like a wish than an insight.



January 31, 2010, 10:40 AM

Let me try to improve that: Postmodernism is a placeholder term that has filled up with meaning, much of which is rightly contested here on Artblog. It isn't substantial enough however to have an endgame.



January 31, 2010, 11:24 AM

David, you're describing the conflated mess of postmodernism and pluralism, which are mutually reinforcing phenomena and can't lead anywhere except further multiplication and dissolution. This is noted as much in the article, although Chris and Opie point out correctly that they're not asking quite the right questions to get out of it.

I think that Nash has correctly identified the two possible paths forward, and I would add that they're not mutually exclusive. Cook's Yokelism is a compelling idea, and the resulting smaller scale of community would make it possible to identify the hierarchies and artists' place within it. (Although Relyea screwed up by saying that quality could be defined one way or the other, if he would accept "detect" as a substitution for "define," his statement about the matter would be fairly agreeable.)



January 31, 2010, 11:28 AM

The problem is not "Postmodernism," whatever that means, but the degeneracy, corruption and weakness that have set in systematically and pervade the entire established or official system--as well as outposts eager to be allowed into said system. It's an amazing failure of taste, sense, integrity and nerve. It's the triumph of absolutely obvious, brazen bullshit. There is no way to salvage such a pile of rubbish; just consign it to the dung heap and move on. I have, and I'm sorry now I ever gave the putrid mess the time of day.



January 31, 2010, 11:48 AM

In other words, there's no point getting hung up on a label and its attendant accoutrements, such as this theorist, that apologist or those enablers. I think the key is to reject and replace, and yes, I do mean something like zero tolerance, certainly for people in my position (read the art audience) who are perfectly free to do so. Either your art satisfies me and my needs, or it does not exist.


Chris Rywalt

January 31, 2010, 11:54 AM

I've said before -- maybe on this blog, definitely elsewhere -- that I've had the idea, for over a decade now, that we're working our way towards everyone being a performer and everyone being an audience member for everyone else. As much as humans have changed culturally over the millennia, one thing has remained constant, which is the size of a village. Even in big cities, most people still know (can recognize on sight, maybe by name) about a village's worth of people, about 200 or so. And I think we're working our way to a point where I go see my friend's band play and he comes to my art opening. I listen to his music (I have MP3s from several friends in regular rotation, right next to Led Zeppelin and Rush) and he hangs my artwork (I gave him a painting a few years back).

From MC's description of his clique in Edmonton and Franklin's advice, it sounds as if they're advocating and experiencing the same kind of thing. This could very well be the "Yokelism" described, although you don't have to be in cow country to be a yokel: You can just be in a psychologically distant village right here in New York City.

There will still be cliques with very large audiences -- Hirst and Emin, I suppose, although I wonder if they're really still hanging on in more than our imaginations -- and then cliques going down and down. Blogs are the online counterpart to this. Anyone can put up a blog and some have thousands of readers and some have two.

Jack's degeneracy and corruption (I'd add in stupidity and cupidity) may continue to plague the upper cliques or it may not, but it's probably beside the point, since it may be that you can't really control your clique or its popularity, only ride it for what it's worth.



January 31, 2010, 12:25 PM

Among my friends who work in contemporary craft, we tend to say there are different contexts for craft - from, say, museum work to design for production to the local potter with a good general art education, etc. - all this considered with less hierarchical judgement than may be possible in the real art world - so-called. I'm all for local arts although the term yokelism is a little self defeating. I do believe in change and even progress, or at least a renewal of perception. I was struck by this recently when visiting the Clark Art Institute a few weekends ago. In mid-winter, there were no special exhibitions, so we enjoyed the permanent collection and noted a little shuffling of the collection. My overall impression though was one of slight uneasiness at the 19thc. installation - colored walls, heavy gilded frames, middling decorative objects mixed in (for their kind, I'm sure they're very high quality plates and dishes). By contrast, the new Tadao Ando building was open so that local hikers could use the bathrooms and warm up. The gallery was empty but visible behind locked glass doors. The building itself was on view as a work of art and I enjoyed it as such. The spaces and the light were wonderful. It struck me as an advance of some kind over Sterling Clark's idea of looking at art. O.K. maybe I was looking at the container, not the art, but somehow it seemed like a contemporary experience that could be valid for another 200 years.


Tom Hering

January 31, 2010, 12:49 PM

Part of the problem is relativism. You end up with a single view of culture that encompasses everything. And so you also end up with just one market that all artists and pretenders compete in.

Back when there was a recognition of lowbrow, middlebrow and highbrow culture, you had three markets. And that helped to sort out the artists and pretenders.



January 31, 2010, 2:45 PM

The market has only been cornered at the museum level. There's a wide range of galleries out there, but there is not a wide range of contemporary museum programs. That range is defined by the political and philosophical narrowness of university programs in contemporary art history. Again, there are exceptions, and there need to be more of them.



January 31, 2010, 2:56 PM

If the art audience would recognize its potential power and stand its ground, its own individual ground, as opposed to trying to fit into somebody else's, we could move out of this morass. However, it may be too late. Just as the general public long ago gave up on "serious" contemporary music, for perfectly good reasons, it may well have decided this "serious" art stuff is just glorified masturbation for a certain moneyed crowd with delusions of depth. Again, there's plenty of justification for that view.

In other words, the public has largely lost confidence and interest in what now passes for art, which is seen as an esoteric, highly self-indulgent and even bizarre game. There are other options for people's time and attention, and it's not at all surprising they would be preferred. Just as "art" music became too "advanced" and "experimental" for its own good, "fine" art seems headed for the same sort of fate. I expect it would already be there, if not for all the rich-idiot money that keeps the game going.



January 31, 2010, 3:04 PM

Yes, Franklin, there's a wide range of galleries, but given the political and philosophical narrowness you rightly note at the supposedly "top" level of ostensible connoisseurship, many people who would otherwise support good work will pass on it because it's not "validated" by the "experts." It's painfully clear that fashion is far more powerful than it has any right to be, in art as in other spheres.


Chris Rywalt

January 31, 2010, 3:17 PM

It's easy enough to get the good art out there. The trouble is getting a market going. The fact is simply showing work you like isn't enough -- that way lies day jobs for everyone. The trouble is getting people to pay for art so it can continue to be created. As Jack notes there are people who might buy a given artwork but won't because it's not validated by experts; but Franklin's right that we don't care about those people anyway. That wide range of galleries needs to reach an equally wide range of people who can be convinced to buy the stuff.

Because it's not about people seeing the work, it's about someone paying for it. Personally I only want enough to pay for more materials. As I wrote on Eric's blog, I've calculated that each one of my paintings needs to sell for $1494.22.

Which seems like an easy market to find -- easier than Jeff Koons -- but I don't know. It's not really cheap enough to be cheap. "Cheap for art" isn't helpful.



January 31, 2010, 3:31 PM

But, there's always pot. Here's a variant of Bizen, known as hidasuki or fire-cord marking:

Bizen 1
Bizen 2
Bizen 3
Bizen 4
Bizen 5

The effect is achieved by wrapping rice-straw cord or rope soaked in salt water around the body of the pot. In oxidation firing, the salt combines with the iron in the clay to produce red markings.


Tom Hering

January 31, 2010, 4:49 PM

"Just as 'art' music became too 'advanced' and 'experimental' for its own good, 'fine' art seems headed for the same sort of fate." - Jack@64

Might this be because "the new" has become an end in itself? Whereas in Modernism, it was a means to an end?

The problem might be that the experiments of Modernism never entered a "classical" phase - in which the experiments were developed and refined, and made a common visual language for the whole culture. An idolization of "the new" (a mere means) prevented this.



January 31, 2010, 5:37 PM

I say there is no endgame. Postmodernism, at least in the Canadian arts ecology, and as much as I would wish otherwise, is alive and well. Its brand may currently be under consideration, but its prime directive is no less unstoppably Borg-like - it just keeps assimilating artists. The sad part is how it sucks in and mires down otherwise talented individuals, artists who don't have the will to resist fashionable fallacies, like, "art makes us think". I don't see a change in management due any time soon either; the youngish people stepping into all those burgeoning culture administration positions are hardcore careerists who've already ceded any sensitivity they thought they might have had to the hive-ish nature of their ever more antidisestablishmentarian biases.



January 31, 2010, 6:17 PM

So-called serious music became increasingly alienated from, and alienating to, the vast majority of the public. It became fatally self-absorbed, arcane and "difficult," essentially forgetting what music had been for and about since time immemorial. There was no justification for this except folly and hubris, and the results were as predictable as they were deserved.

There is an obvious parallel in the art field. Art, the kind sanctioned and promoted by the official system, has largely become an elaborate, expensive and even ridiculous joke, or at best an uninviting and confusing muddle--as far as the general public is concerned. That is not the public's fault or problem. I don't see how non-players can possibly take the art world and its offerings seriously.

The whole business has become divorced from real life and real people, and it seems rather pleased to be its own little world of "issues," "concepts," ever-duller "transgressions," contrived gimmickry and transiently trendy schtick. The vast scaffolding of insubstantial tripe is kept standing by moneyed idiocy and institutional perversion, but even that may eventually prove insufficient to sustain a hollow, bogus game deemed pointless and useless by society at large.



January 31, 2010, 6:28 PM

Jack, you need to stop pulling your punches and say what you really think.


Chris Rywalt

January 31, 2010, 6:29 PM

Ahab sez:
The sad part is how it sucks in and mires down otherwise talented individuals....

I'm not Mr. Art World or anything, and surely there are many people and places I haven't seen. But in my experience I haven't seen this, Ahab. I've found that only the untalented get sucked in. Talented artists may talk as if they've been assimilated just to fit in, like one of those beetles which looks just like an ant in order to live in the ant nest and pick up scraps. But they're still doing good visual work.



January 31, 2010, 6:36 PM

I know, OP. I'm a slave to politesse.



January 31, 2010, 7:20 PM

So Ahab, this is just a wild guess, but you weren't invited to that AGA "social media" love-fest, either, were you? Or is MC the only pariah, what with the elephant business and all?



January 31, 2010, 7:35 PM

An interesting etching by someone now largely forgotten, who was never a major name:

Winter Evening


Chris Rywalt

January 31, 2010, 7:42 PM

Looks like a Tim Burton set design.



January 31, 2010, 7:46 PM

That's part of the joke, of course, Jack. Ahab and I, and our other sometime Studiosavant contributors, were never in any need of an invite to tour from the local tweeters. Ahab works at the damn place, and knows far more about the ins and outs of what goes on there than any of those PR pawns likely ever will. While those silly drones went self-importantly about their little field trip, Ahab was busy installing the exhibitions there... too busy to wave to the group, I hear.
As for me, I was (and still am) out of the country.
I commented on that Mack-blog with the naive thought that, by pointing out the obvious fact that it wasn't really a "tour of active local bloggers", but, in fact, a tour of compromised accomplices, some of those accomplices might take a moment to think that, "Hey, maybe I don't want to be a pawn. Maybe I don't want to trade credibility for access"... but, I learned I was very mistaken. In hindsight, this should have been obvious, since such an uncritical attitude doesn't just characterize the local Twittersphere, or even the illiterate weekly rags: even our local, supposedly "professional" daily newspaper has eschewed any criticism of the new building. This too, is unsurprising, since they are one of the gallery's most loyal corporate sponsors.

Now, that's Yokel-ism.



January 31, 2010, 7:51 PM

I just realized, you were referring to my Ganesha sculptures, Jack.
At first, the elephant I thought you were talking about was just the big fat one sitting in the room, the one we're not supposed to notice...


Chris Rywalt

January 31, 2010, 8:01 PM

Hang on, is MC Marc or Ryan McCourt? I'm confused.


Chris Rywalt

January 31, 2010, 8:05 PM

Oh, wait, I think I get it. Kind of.



January 31, 2010, 8:11 PM

I've got a thing for anagrams, Chris, and I always thought that one sounded better than Roy Cramcunt.

MC will do...



January 31, 2010, 8:22 PM

#72. If you have seen artists who've made good work in the past decline artistically in proportion to their advancement or involvement in the establishment then you'd likely think it was sad. If you haven't then I guess you wouldn't.

#74. If I could explain why people cry "Hater!" at the mere suggestion that they've maybe made an error, then I'd know something about how so many would rather make an error that was a popular success than be at peace with themselves in obscurity.



January 31, 2010, 8:34 PM

Well, Ahab, I don't know about Chris, but I have seen the sad phenomenon you describe. Things being what they are, the existence of such a scenario is a foregone conclusion. Human nature is what it is, after all, even when there is talent.



January 31, 2010, 9:08 PM

I'm thinking of one case in particular, a local artist whose "early" work had elements of AbEx and Klimt, resulting in an unusually bracing decorative style (in a good way). I liked him well enough that, at a fundraising raffle for one of the trendiest art spaces in Miami, where I got lucky and could have had my pick of all the works there (including pretty much all the local starlets, such as Hernan Bas, for instance), I snubbed all the "in" types and went for one of his paintings. Then, alas, he apparently "got religion" while getting his MFA at RISD. He had a show in Miami after that, which I very much looked forward to, only to find an essentially different and virtually unrecognizable artist. It was all dreary, over-intellectualized "innovative" stuff calculated to "make you think," or some such deal. I wasn't just disappointed, I was truly sad for him, and both angry and depressed.



January 31, 2010, 9:32 PM

A couple of etchings, also by minor names, now quite obscure:

Portrait of a Lady

And Chris, try not to say that they remind you of Lady Gaga, or some such comment.


Chris Rywalt

January 31, 2010, 9:43 PM

I've really only been following artists -- living showing non-museum artists -- for less than a decade at this point, so it's possible I just haven't bumped into what you're describing, Ahab. I have seen artists who I thought were good start doing less good work (I've seen some I thought were bad surprise me, too). It is sad. What I haven't seen is anyone who was any good embrace Postmodernism and become bad. All the Pomoranians and Conceptualists I know of couldn't make decent work if they tried.

Wait, I thought of one guy. He's capable of very solid portraiture, kind of Sargent loose stuff, not great but definitely yeoman efforts. He spends a lot of his time pursuing wacky ideas. Not so much Conceptualist -- he doesn't start with preconceived notions -- but very exploratory, kind of "I found this on the street and thought it was neat. What can I make with it?"

His approach is so childlike (not childish), though, I can't begrudge him. And he hits on some cool things in the process. He may stumble into something great some day.


Chris Rywalt

January 31, 2010, 9:44 PM

Roxana looks more like Muhammad Ali than Lady Gaga. "Float like a Butterfinger, sting like a bee!"



January 31, 2010, 9:49 PM

Chris, you're beyond help. I'm surprised they even let you into the NYC gallery district. I would have thought they'd hire snipers to take out such undesirable riff-raff.



January 31, 2010, 10:04 PM

I wondered if you'd mistake what I was describing as a generalization of good-to-bad or bad-to-good trajectories.

I'm only looking for whether the work is good, and if for a season it isn't then any inferral about what went wrong for the artist concerned is merely an informed guess and not an indictment of his or her person. It is all just useful to me as cautionary tale, I suppose, and one I should probably keep to myself.

There's no set-fast rule about how a given artist finds his or her good art, or how it is lost. I know well enough when I'm in a slump, though.


Chris Rywalt

February 1, 2010, 7:24 AM

I don't think I made the mistake of generalization; I know what you were saying; it's just not something I've seen personally. I have seen more general declines, and the opposite. I just haven't seen anyone "decline artistically in proportion to their advancement or involvement in the establishment".

This may be because I haven't followed anyone as they've advanced in the establishment. I've found that I follow very few artists. Most get one shot at my eyes and then they're out.

One exception is Nicole Eisenman, who I purposely went to see again. But she was never any good.



February 1, 2010, 9:17 AM

Speaking of end games, I just bought "Clement Greenberg Late Writings". Good stuff.


JooYoung Choi

February 1, 2010, 11:17 PM

Hi! I haven't read your blog before, but I found it quite interesting. I have just recently started blogging, and found your site and it's entries really interesting, also the site itself is well organized and seems to have a good number of comments and input from others.

I am just wondering if you have any advice for the young artist who is beginning their first blog, what things you feel they could avoid and good ideas as to how they can make it something useful and helpful to others.

Your comments about Boston and the idea of it having potential, I often think of my colleague whom are all planning to run off to New York City in a few years, and I wonder, will Boston ever become what it could be if New York is only a fungwah busride away?

Also in Korea, where I will be moving soon, I would like to help out in building the art scene amongst young and emerging artists, but just as in Boston, there is a struggle in Seoul. Although the reasons for this struggle are different, I am wondering what do you think can be done to change this issue? In any city with raw potential...



February 2, 2010, 12:59 PM

You are asking for an instruction manual, JooYoung.

Maybe just follow the enxample of this blog.



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