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EAG nails it

Post #1449 • February 1, 2010, 7:30 AM • 104 Comments

The greatest outpouring of good sense and correct observations you're likely to read this week appeared yesterday under the title Prismatic Glass Ceilings at EAGEAGEAG.




February 1, 2010, 9:45 AM

If Deitch (or anybody) is whining because his move to become a museum director is seen with significant reservations or suspicion, he (or whoever) needs to grow the hell up and stop insulting people's intelligence. Sheesh. Is there no end to insider BS? Sorry; stupid question.



February 1, 2010, 11:40 AM

The posted account is reasonable if somewhat long-winded. I would recommend it to a young person who is thinking of an art career.

If we posit an ideal (and impossible) world where the best art is immediately recognized and shown and sells we will see further that there are a number of conditions in play that work to prevent it.

1. Very few people can tell the difference between good and bad, and artistic talent is very rare. Good art tends to rise in general estimation over time because the few who can tell the difference really care, and their discrimination and strong feelings and persistence get the art accepted, eventually. In the meantime bad new art is more likely to succeed than good new art, partly because there is more of it.

2. Art - making, buying, selling - is very high prestige. If you couple this fact with fact #1 the natural consequence is lot of people making art and selling and criticizing art and working in museums who should be doing something else.

3. Art has changed in the last few of generations (roughly Clement Greenberg's professional lifetime, for example) from what was pretty much a small, rather highly professionalized "insider" business to a multi-billion dollar international industry. Considering this together with facts 1 & 2 it is easy to understand why the best art has to struggle.

4. Added to all this is that size makes a difference. A larger art world is not just larger than a small one, it is different. I won't get into the complexities of this (it is a book-length subject) but one very clear consequence is that ambition now has several paths to follow. In the "old" art world ambition was primarily to make better art. That's why people got into it. Now the art world is much larger, much less discriminating and naturally tuned into more worldly measures of success.

This is by no means pure and clearcut, of course, but by way of example I would testify that when I started my career 50 years ago there was plenty of ambition and competitiveness in the air but material success was only a by-product of being the "best", and actually was often derided as "selling out". These days there is absolutely no cultural bar to consciously getting into art-making to "make it", and making it means big galleries, big sales and big museums and, perhaps most of all, fame. This is a natural ingredient of any really extensive industry, and is clearly abetted by the facts enumerated above.

Sooner or later the whole thing has to divide into separate entities, each with its own market, collectors, etc. This has begun already but it is hindered by the traditional enclosure of the gallery/museum complex. It will take time. When it does happen, good new art will be the same small-time activity it was 50 years ago, but at least it might gain a little general prestige.


Tom Hering

February 1, 2010, 12:20 PM

A return to a small art world? No thanks. We need more markets for the good artists out there.


Tom Hering

February 1, 2010, 12:32 PM

Though maybe that's what you meant, Opie, by "divide into separate entities."



February 1, 2010, 12:37 PM

The combined implications of 1, 2, 3, and 4 from opie are very daunting. Perhaps the study of studio art ought to be banned from higher education.



February 1, 2010, 12:39 PM

Tom - It may be more comfortable and prestigious if it is recognized that good art is "serious art" rather than something to be merely scoffed at and called elitist and retrograde and "irrelevant". And the fact that the overall market is so much larger may help some.

But the market for good new art will always be small, just as it is now. Always has been; always will be.



February 1, 2010, 1:31 PM

'Perhaps the study of studio art ought to be banned from higher education.'




February 1, 2010, 1:44 PM

John, or at least accompanied by a warning label.



February 1, 2010, 1:47 PM

A great deal of what now passes for art is much more accurately described as product that is packaged and promoted as art and marketable to an audience that will accept it and buy it as such. Whether or not this product or commodity really qualifies as art, or rather, whether or not it has any artistic merit, is quite beside the point. The point is whether or not the product can be moved as promoted, and how far or how high it can be placed. Obviously this works for the sellers, but it also works for all too many lousy producers/artists, and it now has the full complicity of the institutional establishment. It's a great racket.

Needless to say, the vast increase in size and numbers relative to the past potentiates this, and it is absolutely crucial that as many participants as possible be as clueless, opportunistic and/or cynical as possible. Lack of discernment is especially critical. There is simply no way to generate and maintain so much material gain from the art business otherwise.

After all, art, good or bad, is not a necessity like food, which doesn't even have to taste good as long as it keeps people alive. It's not like the pharmaceutical industry, which can make obscene profits because sick people will pay whatever it takes to get better. Art is a luxury item, a relative frill, an indulgence. As OP note, serious artistic talent is much too rare to meet such a large demand. Standards, principles, integrity and so forth would only gum up the works, and the name of the game is to keep the river of money flowing.



February 1, 2010, 2:42 PM

Yes,there is nothing as worthless and as expensive relative to its worth than bad art.

In fact it is well on its way to becoming a gigantic disposal problem. The only good thing to be said for most conceptual art is that it contains little actual material to be disposed of.



February 1, 2010, 3:51 PM

"Yes,there is nothing as worthless and as expensive relative to its worth than bad art.
In fact it is well on its way to becoming a gigantic disposal problem."

Don't worry, opie... the conceptualists have the disposal "issue" covered, too...



February 1, 2010, 5:48 PM

Thanks for the link Franklin. I am not sure that a better written and more convincing "outpouring of good sense and correct observations" will not appear this week though.

Yeah I guess it is long winded. Good thing I left out some things that I wanted to include. I will save them for part 2.

I would like to discuss this passage in opie's comment:

"Good art tends to rise in general estimation over time because the few who can tell the difference really care, and their discrimination and strong feelings and persistence get the art accepted, eventually."

I think that artists who have generated so much press and scholarly attention will not fade in 25 or even 50 years (unless the whole human population does) just because people will come to realize that their art sucks. People who own their shit and the museums (!) and the curators who have lavished so much attention on them will not back track and say, we made a mistake. The catalogs and reviews have been written and are in the online archives and libraries.

Once a blue chip artist gets ensconced in the art world mechanism and becomes a part of art history by default there is no going back. At least there is no erasing them completely. They might be paid a lot less attention to but the damage is done. (and yes I know all about those artists who are considered geniuses now but were ignored during their lifetime, but that sort of thing is an exception not the rule)

And what of all of the living and dead artists who are little known but have their work in museum collections? Most of the art works that are added to museum collections are stored away and often never see the light of day.

Yes it is true that on occasion some sympathetic scholar or curator will dig up a forgotten body of work and rejuvenate an artist who was all but ignored by their peers, but again, that sort of thing does not happen frequently, and when it does happen it usually takes place in a university/college library or some setting that is off the trendy critic's radar.

What I am saying is that most good art work that never gets to see the light of day and rots away in storage somewhere (storage takes place in many different settings) will remain unknown to the public even after 50 years post the artist's death. The art critic plays a role in all of this and the print media critics review exhibitions in certain museums and certain galleries. Getting your work shown in these specific and limited number of venues determines whether or not an artist becomes part of the official dialogue, and even then, many exhibitions get ignored and artists are dropped by the galleries.

Granted the Internet increases the number of 'voices' chiming in on things but there are still a very limited number of pronounced and louder voices drowning out most of the other voices.

Whether or not the art world will become more atomized or compartmentalized remains to be seen. There are niche markets for certain types of work, landscapes, figural, still life, portraiture, abstraction, etc. And there really is no niche markets for conceptual art. "Hey honey let's get a tin can filled with an artist's shit for the foyer." So genre work will continue to thrive to a certain extent and art will get sold on eBay and on artists' web pages. But the dialogue of the official art world, although it is more international in flavor than it has ever been before, more often than not does not resuscitate or discover those artists who were ignored by the public or the commercial gallery (and therefore museums as well) system.



February 1, 2010, 6:59 PM

EAG, a lot of what you write has to do with vanity. The rest has to do with a system which is a form of consumerism and exists to the extent that something (vacuum cleaners or 'art') can be sold or moved in order to move money.
Jack's take is accurate, but there's really nothing to feel bad about, unless you haven't figured out that it's a fallen world.
The attention we give to The Deal gives it more energy. Plus, it's BOR-ING!!!!!!!!!!



February 1, 2010, 7:17 PM

But, EAG, I'm not singling you out. I just don't get why so much energy is spent on understanding something that is so easy to understand, and which will fall under its own weight which was producesd by its hollowness. Maybe someone here can tell me what the fascination is with something which is so easy to understand. Maybe you're interested in dealing in it. My suggestion: Forget it. It's not about what you say you're about, and even if it let you in, if you have any integrity at all, you'd be throwing up in about 15 minutes.



February 1, 2010, 7:23 PM

EAG the bad stuff may not all disappear but it does fade and selection & rejection takes place even within the categories of bad stuff. Like your can of shit in the front hall, it is unlikely that hideous rotting fish corpses in huge vats of toxic fluid will persist well into the future, despite the Met Museum's patronage, but artists like Warhol & Johns may persist for quite some time, even if only as cultural artifacts.

But it is a matter of numbers; just like the salon artists of the 19th C. some will be around & even collected at good prices, but something else will be considered the best art of the time.

The "good" living & dead artists in the museum storage rooms will probably disappear for the most part, simply because good art often is not good enough. Once again, it is a matter of numbers. We only preserve the best. That's the way it is. Let's just hope it is the best that we preserve. Otherwise visual culture will have gone down the tubes.

As for "down the tubes", I am hoping that the separation of venues will preserve more of the merely good as well as the best while allowing the crap art o to dominate commercially. That's my hope, and it is supported somewhat by what the internet seems to be evolving to.

But my experience is necessarily with the past, and the past might not hold. I used to collect jazz, R&B, blues and soul records ca 1920-1970 and I saw absolutely marvelous stuff disappear permanently into the woodwork and the musical equivalent of Johns & Warhol become "classic". This is what happens when popular support ends up calling the shots. It could happen here.



February 1, 2010, 7:30 PM

Popular support is en passant. Yes, it might have its effect on you and me, but that's one thing we have wits for.



February 1, 2010, 7:36 PM

Plus, posterity sorts it out. Did Schubert rescue Bach from the attic?


Chris Rywalt

February 1, 2010, 7:38 PM

Is Miles Davis the equivalent of Johns and Warhol?



February 1, 2010, 7:44 PM

I know "en passant" as a chess move but I don't know what it means here.

These things happen Tim. Moby Dick & Great Gatsby come to mind.

No Chris, but Elvis might, although I like his music more than I like Warhol's art.



February 1, 2010, 7:47 PM

Chris, Miles just went with the times. So, if you look through his working in that context, you get what he had to give. But you have to look through the things which don't ultimately count, as I know you understand.



February 1, 2010, 8:02 PM

Well, OP, don't expect the institutional "experts" or supposed "guardians" to be much use, since they've clearly become part of the problem--and, as EAG notes, once these people pick the wrong horse, they're extremely unlikely to admit it, and much more likely to prop up a dead horse like some taxidermy specimen.



February 1, 2010, 8:04 PM

Opie, by 'en passant,' I meant 'in passing'.

As for things happening, yes, The Great Gatsby especially.

As for Elvis, he was mostly a pose, but I agree, opie, that for entertainment value, Elvis has it ALL over Johns and Warhol. But I bet that Warhol would, if asked, agreed. That's because he wanted to be in agreement with anybody who would buy his things.



February 1, 2010, 10:16 PM

To EAG and opie: speculate away. Just about anything can be made into worthwhile speculation, but the art system is so intrinsically interesting, that it begs for it.

Myself, EAG's statement that such a large investment by such an enlarged body of institutions will never be denied is formidable. On the other hand, it is just as hard for me to imagine that it can survive its inherent lack of consideration for what satisfies basic perception, a lack that is as enlarged as the system itself.

My own experience with institutions has taught me that when the old leaders retire, the new ones have a tendency to replace what their predecessors built with something that suits them better - which may ultimately be the outcome here. Opie's assertion that the bloated up system we have now will subdivide is more speculative than what I just wrote, but makes sense. But the future does not always unfold in a sensical manner.

I have long said the best art makes its way by persisting. Nothing in the current situation makes me want to back away from that.



February 1, 2010, 11:01 PM

John it seems formidable because we are faced with it now - and it is formidable now - but it is formidable because it is opinion held by a lot of people who will be dead in the future.

Things change. If we could put ourselves back in the 20s when Henry Huntington paid the present-day equivalent of $9,000,000 for Gainsborough's BLUE BOY, which, when put on display, drew 90,000 visitors, we would marvel at how much values and opinions had changed.

Good art rises because those few who know the difference see it and when they go there are others who see it and this creates a continuity of strongly held opinion that has authority. Fashions come and go; this persists.



February 2, 2010, 12:42 AM

I know opie. There was a time when MOMA thought Ben Shahn was a great artist too. So did Harvard, for that matter.



February 2, 2010, 1:13 AM

I'm inclined to agree with the general tone of opie's comment #2.

(re 1.) The biggest question is who is deciding on what is good and bad art. In spite of all the protestations to the contrary, in the contemporary moment there rarely is any agreement on this point.

(re 2.) High prestige, or elitist, it is a game of the rich both financially and socially and favors those who can move comfortably in those circles. I don't think this is particularly new.

(re 3.) The increased size of the art world is very important but the fact that it is a multi-billion dollar industry probably has less bearing on quality than one might suspect. Taking into account the difficulty in finding agreement over the merits of an individual artist, the dilution of artistic quality may be a result of the pressure to fulfill the demand. Further, the increased size of the artworld means that the number of major patrons has increased and that we should expect differences in taste.

(re 4.) I've been pointing out for a couple of years that size makes a huge difference in the artworld. Pluralism is a direct outcome of the postwar population increase. The size of the artworld had increased to the point where a single hegemonic style could no longer be enforced. As a result the artworld has experienced a proliferation of new mediums and philosophical approaches towards the making of art. It makes perfect sense that viewpoints and tastes honed in one stylistic era will find difficulty accepting these changes.

The recent discussions about postmodernism are hilarious since the postmodernists are now making the same tired arguments for their practice. In case no one noticed, Postmodernism is dead dead dead. It's in the runoff phase and finds its primary support among lesser artists working in academic settings.

I'm a bit younger than opie, and I distinctly recall that it was in the early 1970's the idea of being an "artist as a profession" came into being. The idea that one would study art in the university and then become a "professional artist" just like accountants or engineers. Art schools didn't start teaching the basic fundamentals of the business, how to make a resume and a slide presentation until the 1970's. The old bohemian art world is a dream of the past.

The art world has already begun to split up into various factions. I am continually amazed by the degree of resentment which exists between these factions. So much energy is wasted denigrating "conceptual art" by painters, or "painting" by the conceptual artists. It's really stupid.

So now that we have a really big and prosperous artworld, one which in spite of the recession is still much bigger than it was twenty years ago, we will continue to see a lot of "professional" art vying for the collector dollar. There is no guarantee that any artist will "make it" because their "art is good" -- the thorn here is that it is never quite clear what "good" really is. We can talk about "competent," as in competent landscapes or competent abstractions. They abound and are a market niche.

Truly great, inspired art, changes the sentiments of the moment, diverts and enlarges our creative perceptions and affects the entire artistic food chain.

Truly great, inspired art, is a blunt affront on our perceptions, not a nuanced recapitulation of last seasons model (this falls into the competent category).

Finally, becoming an artist is a guarantee of financial ruin. If you don't have a trust fund expect to work a day job.



February 2, 2010, 2:27 AM

There's a fair bit wrong with George's comment, but to be brief:

To say Postmodernism is "dead" is an understatement, and to suggest this death is in any way recent is simply an error: it was born dead, obviously.

To suggest that "in the early 1970's the idea of being an "artist as a profession" came into being" is so obviously ridiculous, it almost defies comprehension in its ahistorical myopia.

And, "affront" is exactly the wrong word, there, George. That's what bad art does, not good art.



February 2, 2010, 8:04 AM

MC the postmortem on anything as vaguely defined as "Postmodernism" is by nature indeterminate. And whatever it was that we called Postmodernism is still hanging over us like toxic smog.

I agree about the "affront to perceptions" because it leads too easily to the "art must be disturbing" nonsense, which is the favorite mantra of macho collectors of bad art, along with "love" and "passion". Good new art often does not look like it should, that is, doesn;t "look like art", but the shock achlock thing seems to have faded, pretty much all over by the 80s, really.



February 2, 2010, 8:33 AM

Further, the increased size of the artworld means that the number of major patrons has increased and that we should expect differences in taste.

So why aren't we seeing them? These collectors are often profiled in the glossies and you can depend on seeing the same handful of names over and over again. Are the magazines excluding collectors of certain genres along with the artists working in them?

The art world has already begun to split up into various factions. I am continually amazed by the degree of resentment which exists between these factions.

My theory is that this is caused by the museums. We've seen stylistic proliferation occur in books and music, and each niche finds its market without bothering with styles that don't concern it. Nothing like the museums, and everything they represent, exists in the worlds of music and books. The museums ought to be responding more or less randomly to what's going on in contemporary art, sampling everything that's out there, but they favor art with a heavy conceptual program, liberal political leanings, and/or links to antecedents in Fluxus. It blew me away when the Laguna Art Museum put on its 2008 show of Lowbrow, not because I love Lowbrow, but because it's all over the place in SoCal and a museum decided to show it despite not conforming to those three requirements. We should be seeing museum shows like that as a rule, not an exception to dogma.


Tom Hering

February 2, 2010, 9:42 AM

"... it is a game of the rich both financially and socially and favors those who can move comfortably in those circles." - George@26

I've sometimes wondered whether one reason Hirst and Koons are so successful is the mere fact that they are businessmen. They, and those collectors who are also businessmen, would feel very comfortable with one another.

Likewise with curators. They, and those artists who also have degrees (from the right schools?) would feel very comfortable with one another.

Maybe social connections are the biggest factor in artistic success (while you're around on this earth anyways). Why should the world of art be different from the rest of the world? (Is there a book out there that examines the lives of the great artists from the social angle?)



February 2, 2010, 10:34 AM

Franklin the taste/collector matter is interesting but hard to pin down. Taste is like talent; it is rare and randomly distributed. There are more collectors but the individual collector with good tase for new art is either very rare or well hidden.

I also think that the size of the market can contribute to the lemming effect, which is clearly shown in the contemporary auctions, which feature the same artists over and over again. And it is interesting to note that, unlike the post-war and earlier auctions, the quality level is absurdly low. The recent vogue for Chinese paintings is a case in point.



February 2, 2010, 11:21 AM

The poster child for the art system is a Botero figure - just about any of them will do, but here is a pretty good one - bloated but smug.



February 2, 2010, 11:24 AM

There's no mystery in that smile.



February 2, 2010, 11:52 AM

Good grief. How hideous can something get? Poor Leonardo. Even the background is horrendous. Someone has that thing on the wall and thinks it is real cool, heh heh har-de-har.

It should be filled with gas so it would float like a deranged blimp. And make it hydrogen so it could be shot down with tracer bullets.




February 2, 2010, 12:24 PM

Yeah Franklin, the "smile" is just the contortion that results from trying to keep the gas from escaping.


Chris Rywalt

February 2, 2010, 1:35 PM

Not every Botero I've seen in reproduction is completely terrible, but that one more than makes up for them.


Chris Rywalt

February 2, 2010, 1:38 PM

Looking for Botero images I found this, which text goes great with the preceding Mona Botero:

"Having considered the processes of aestheticization and commodification, we are now in a position to approach ideology, the most important concept in cultural studies. But - and let's be clear about this - ideology is a challenging concept, and all our preparations to this point, helpful as they are, will not transform this rough hike into a cake walk. As Terry Eagleton's treatment of this concept suggests, ideology means many different things, and our first task is to appreciate its polysemy."



February 2, 2010, 5:40 PM

"Postmodernism" is a merely a term for a relativist system of thought that has been applied to a variety of human endeavors, from visual art, to literature, to gender studies, etc. As a system of thought, it is, and always was, DOA, since it is based on false premises. This doesn't require taste to discover, but merely logical scrutiny. The fact that it "is still among us" does not refute that. Errors persist, and sometimes flourish. That's what happened throughout the humanities. But this isn't a healthy organism we're talking about, so much as a zombie plague. Maybe it's better to talk of it as 'undead'.
The fact that "postmodernism" as it is understood now, is virtually meaningless, stems from the fact that it has had a generation on dominance in academia, so now we're at the point where students of postmodernists do not identify with, indeed cannot even identify, period, the teachings of their own predecessors.
So, now, we can have a "poistmodernist" that just does whatever... it might be good, even, because it has no real attachment to that originally-definable system of relativist thinking, but rather merely embraces an 'anything-goes' pluralism.
Of course, everything still follows the general rule of the rarity of greatness, and whatever you want to label your art, your literature, your philosophy, you cannot escape that fact.



February 2, 2010, 5:54 PM

MC you & I share a strong distast for Postmodernism, but saying it is nonsense does not mean it lacks power (if it is an "it" in any descernable way). A zombie plague is a pretty nasty thing, after all.



February 2, 2010, 8:51 PM

I hereby officially protest the linking of that execrable Botero image. I mean, what's next, the Duchamp Mona with the mustache? My pots are highly offended, even though fortunately none of them is in this now polluted thread.



February 2, 2010, 10:06 PM

If you could change one thing about the art world, what would it be? Haters. Street artists who hate artists who make money. Conceptual artists who hate painting. Painters who hate conceptualists. Lowbrow people who think the highbrow are shitting on them. You can hate art in general, but if you’re in it and hating, you’re like a dog chasing your own tail. Do you want everyone to be like you? Fill in the blank: The young New York art scene is in transition. Artists want a change and feel something big is about to come together, but can’t quite see what it is yet. We’re in the eye of the storm.

Aurel Schmidt Age: 25. via Interview Magazine



February 2, 2010, 10:33 PM

Now we have the wisdom of Aurel. Age 25.

I wonder what she? he? thinks is the big thing coming. An irresistible flood of art-world amiability? A bonfire of the vanities? An economic crisis bad enough to render art utterly superfluous? (that's my guess).

Or what?

I'd love to know. What do you think, George?



February 2, 2010, 10:37 PM

Op, "Aurel" is bound to be the equivalent of "Holland" among the 20-something crowd.



February 2, 2010, 10:44 PM

Interview Magazine. Indeed.



February 2, 2010, 11:26 PM

Wow... "Aurel" sure is judgmental about other people's judgments.

I don't need to link to the definition of "irony", do I?

We agree, Opie. A decaying corpse certainly has the power to spread disease. But still, a corpse is a corpse, of course, of course...


Chris Rywalt

February 2, 2010, 11:38 PM

I don't know when precisely the term "hater" arrived on the scene, but I've hated it since I heard it. Yes, let's all be about peace, love and understanding. That art's not bad, it's just different. And homeopathy isn't hokum, it's just a different kind of medicine.



February 3, 2010, 12:00 AM

That's right Chris: Postmodernist Medicine.



February 3, 2010, 1:21 AM

To quote something I read recently, "criticality does not a hater make".



February 3, 2010, 7:22 AM

You're right Jack, that Botero is one of the most hideous paintings I have ever seen. It sticks in my brain like a nasty parasite. With apologies to Aurel, I might tentatively venture that I hate it.



February 3, 2010, 8:20 AM

Actually, OP, that Botero Mona may well be modeled after some South American "major" collector or other. It looks like one.



February 3, 2010, 8:25 AM

As for "hater," in my experience, people who brandish that term and attempt to use it as a weapon or a shield are virtually always full of it, or full enough, and their credibility is typically quite questionable. But of course, what would I know. I mean, I don't even read Interview magazine.



February 3, 2010, 9:57 AM

Now we have the wisdom of Aurel. Age 25.

I wonder what she? he? thinks is the big thing coming.

Ah. The big thing coming for Aurel is the rest of her 20's.



February 3, 2010, 11:05 AM

And after that: nascent adulthood



February 3, 2010, 11:26 AM




February 3, 2010, 1:45 PM

By the way, Franklin, Jerry Saltz has now chimed in on the Brozino drawings show, here. It's actually not as bad as I expected, but I'm sure that's because I'd already read the very irritating Holland Cotter review of the same show. I suppose that Saltz, free of the pressure of justifying a dubious Pulitzer, doesn't have to huff and puff quite as hard. But yes, I'm damning with faint praise.



February 3, 2010, 1:47 PM

And that was supposed to be Bronzino. ARRRRRGH! I hate typos.



February 3, 2010, 2:29 PM

Oh, don't tell me Saltz got a Pulitzer! That's an abomination! Might as well just give everyone and his brother a Nobel and a Macarthur and then flush the whole corrupt prize-giving PC dungheap into the sewer.

I guess I am just one of those incurable haters...



February 3, 2010, 2:30 PM

No, OP, Cotter got the Pulitzer.



February 3, 2010, 2:36 PM

But, of course, you are a hater, which basically means you're not sufficiently open-minded for your brain to have fallen out. There are worse problems. Trust me.


Chris Rywalt

February 3, 2010, 2:38 PM

I read Jerry's review yesterday and thought he did okay after a rocky start. Bronzino as Joey Ramone? That's awfully stupid. The Ramones were famous for not knowing how to play their instruments and of course Joey didn't play anything. And to compare the Black Plague and the sack of Rome to New York City in the 1970s is hyperbole of the most ridiculous order.

But after he gets past that the rest of the review (all two paragraphs of it) is all right.



February 3, 2010, 2:41 PM

Not as bad as you expected. Jack? You must have expected something unimaginably bad.

It reads like it was written by some 25 year old (sorry Aurel) totally gaga (a word borrowed from this review) rock band camp foillower.

I just, like, LOVE mannerism...It is SO punk rock...especially all those LOVELY posteriors on those GORGEOUS boys...!

This is Pulitzer-winning art criticism?




February 3, 2010, 2:43 PM

Oh, so Cotter got it.

I guess we will have to wait for next year for the next idiot.



February 3, 2010, 3:14 PM

My point, OP, is that at least Saltz doesn't have a Pulitzer to justify (yet). Cotter's nonsense in his review was utterly inexcusable. But yes, Saltz is still Saltz. It's sad how these people can't or won't review a show like this one without bending over backwards to remind the audience they're not stuffy, old-fashioned or (the horror!) unhip. The fact they wind up sounding like posturing high-schoolers who happen to be very long in the tooth is apparently of no concern. But, to be fair, maybe they simply know their audience and give it what it likes.



February 3, 2010, 3:32 PM

And by the way, is Saltz known to be gay, or is he simply being fashionably homophiliac? It doesn't really change anything either way, but he made a big point of gushing over that male posterior.



February 3, 2010, 3:41 PM

I have no idea. I have nothing against being aroused by subject matter - that's what we have porn for - but that and the whole business of cutesy NY in the '70s references and swooning over mannerism had very little with how good your friend Brozino was, and he was very good indeed.

(did you catch that? I read right past your typo)


Chris Rywalt

February 3, 2010, 5:09 PM

Jerry isn't gay. He's married to Roberta Smith. And, yes, I understand that marriage is not proof of heterosexuality. But as far as I know Jerry's straight. I suppose he could be bisexual.

I tend to read his gay-sounding bits as coming from the same place my own gay-sounding bits come from, which is a willingness to admit to feelings, leanings and inclinations which are on the gay side while not actually going all the way.

I've said before that the only reason I'm not bisexual is I'd only be able to get ugly guys. If I could get a hot man to sleep with me, I'd consider it.

I recently read that early in his career David Bowie only pretended to be gay because it was fashionable and would advance his reputation. I find this amusing. Of course he's been married to Iman for years now, which is proof not only of heterosexuality, but extreme manliness.



February 3, 2010, 5:34 PM

The point, of course, is not whether Saltz is gay, bi or whatever, but the way he writes about art. Actually, if he's straight, gushing like he did about a nude male posterior sounds even more affected, like somebody going out of his way to indicate he's totally OK with homoerotic effusions (what with being a hip New Yorker and so forth). In other words, it smacks of deliberate striving for effect, and the review has other instances of the same tendency. Strike a pose, quoth Madonna.

But I think I get it now. Both Cotter and Saltz try mightily to show that they have WWW (way with words), when they actually have WWD (would-be wordsmith disease). This may be an attempt to emulate one of the chief virtues of Robert Hughes, who's a much better writer than either of them, regardless of what one thinks of him as a critic.



February 3, 2010, 6:18 PM

What a bunch of hypocrites.

Yup, Bronzino is an old dead artist and there is an exhibit of his drawings at the Met. What do we expect from a 500 word article in a popular magazine? What would be the best outcome we could expect from the readers of this article?

That they are interested enough to go see the exhibition.

Quality you exhort! Well what do you want? You want people to get excited by examples of good art? Excited enough to come back and see it again? Excited enough to be able to make comparisons with other art? You want to make the past seem relevant by reframing it's context in terms the modern audience can understand?

This exhibition is the first ever dedicated to Agnolo Bronzino (1503–1572), and will present nearly all the known drawings by, or attributed to, this leading Italian Mannerist artist, who was active primarily in Florence. A painter, draftsman, academician, and enormously witty poet, Bronzino became famous as the court artist to the Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici and his beautiful wife, the Duchess Eleonora di Toledo. This monographic exhibition will contain approximately 60 drawings from European and North-American collections, many of which have never before been on public view. [MET website]


Chris Rywalt

February 3, 2010, 6:38 PM

I feel certain Jerry could've piqued reader interest without throwing in the Ramones (which is a fairly elderly reference itself).



February 3, 2010, 6:50 PM

George, no one was being hypocritical. Hypercritical, maybe, but not hypocritical. There is no basis for the charge.

Good criticism can be written in pipular magazines, and it can be interesting and it can cause people to go see the show. What Saltz wrote was just silly, and probably below the level of the readers, if anything. Like anything else, pandering can be done well.



February 3, 2010, 6:55 PM

Oh, dear. It appears we've provoked the wrath of the non-hater in excelsis, the Zeitgeistmeister. How delightful, I mean distressing. We must be doing something right. I, for one, intend to keep doing it.



February 3, 2010, 9:13 PM

"What do we expect from a 500 word article in a popular magazine?"

Keeping in mind, Clement Greenberg wrote for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar...

Nice try, George.


Chris Rywalt

February 3, 2010, 10:55 PM

Vogue and Harper's aren't New York Magazine. New York is a fucking rag. It's barely a step up from Maxim half the time.

Although the last time I was in my psychiatrist's waiting room I did read an interesting article on dogs.



February 4, 2010, 1:34 AM

It's Harper's Bazaar, Chris, not Harper's. It makes a difference...


Chris Rywalt

February 4, 2010, 7:53 AM

Eh, it's all just dead trees anyhow.

A little Wikipedia indicates that the Harpers in question are the same for both magazines, namely James, John, Wesley and Fletcher. More useless knowledge!

Harper's has every issue online -- all the way back to 1850. That's pretty impressive, isn't it?



February 4, 2010, 2:11 PM

Well, for what it's worth, the new Whitney Biennial list is out, down to 55 artists this time. They're overwhelmingly NY-based, with some LA and Chicago people and a few European-based entries. Nobody from Miami.



February 4, 2010, 4:53 PM

The point being, of course, that those magazines are not high-fallutin' mags for intellectuals, Chris.
That is all.

But George asked the wrong question to begin with: it's not a question of what we "expect" from popular mags (I know exactly what to 'expect' from them, that's why I don't read them), but rather, what we demand of writing on art, if WE are expected to respect it, in any way. Greenberg managed to write respectable criticism (to say the least) in mainstream fashion magazines, for goodness sake. Of course, the context shouldn't matter. Discerning readers should demand good writing that makes sense, period. Of course, Clem set the bar pretty high, to the peril of those who came after. Bonk.


Chris Rywalt

February 4, 2010, 7:31 PM

Say, MC, just heard about some Degas kerfuffle in Edmonton. Any thoughts?



February 4, 2010, 10:23 PM

Well, I don't really know how widespread the debate is about this in Edmonton. It appears that Vue Weakly is the only media that has published the arguably-justifiable concerns of Mr. Arseneau (but, god bless him, he's been leaving comments about it on virtually every online news-site that's covered the newly-opened gallery, and shows no sign of letting up, as we see in the ArtFagCity comments... go Gary! Fight the power!).

As the Vue article plainly states, "The AGA acknowledges Arseneau's claims in a statement...". So, they are reproductions: no controversy about that.

ArtFagCity's treatment of the story is just plain stupid, though, starting with that first irrelevant, intentionally misleading line about "contemporary art-making" and the breathtakingly-moronic "analogy" with Robert fucking Smithson, as commenter Ian rightly notes there.

Those obvious points out of the way, I haven't seen the Edmonton show yet (I'm not there), but I was recently at the NGA in DC, where they show what they claim to be, and what I have no reason to doubt, are existing originals by Degas in non-bronze materials. The sculptures at the AGA aren't those pieces: they are posthumously cast bronzes, just like every other bronze casting of any Degas sculpture at any museum in the world.

Ahab is on the scene: he may have more to add.



February 4, 2010, 10:26 PM

From what I recall from the little I read in the NGA's Degas display, some bronzes were cast from Degas' own pieces, and some of those original pieces did not survive the casting process...



February 4, 2010, 10:49 PM

I remember the issue of bronzes being cast posthumously coming up in 1974, when a distinguished Rodin scholar was very upset about the poor quality of some posthumously cast Rodins. There was a big article about it all in ARTnews at the time.

I would imagine this wasn't the first time that the issue had come up, and I would further imagine that it's come up periodically ever since. But he real question is not whether or not the piece was cast posthumously, but whether or not the quality of the casting measures up to previous standards.

With Rodin, the issue was whether or not the posthumous casts were of the same quality as castings made while Rodin was still alive. In the case of the Degas in Edmonton, the issue would (or should) be whether the casts are of the same quality as the casts in other museums (since as I understand it none of Degas' wax sculptures were cast in bronze during his lifetime).

If Arsenau wants to make an issue out of the fact that a sculpture wasn't personally made by the artist whose name is attached to it, he is ignoring the fact that craftsmen have been translating maquettes, drawings or even just the ideas of artists into finished sculptures for centuries. But of course he pretty obviously doesn't know too much art history to start with.



February 4, 2010, 10:59 PM

"If Arsenau wants to make an issue out of the fact that a sculpture wasn't personally made by the artist whose name is attached to it..."

No, I don't think that is Arseneau's issue, Piri (and I can't imagine why you suppose it is "obvious" that he "doesn't know too much art history", but never mind). I think it's clear he is making a distinction between artists who intend to have their works cast by others (like Rodin), versus artists who specifically DO NOT intend any such thing (like Degas).

As the official response from the AGA itself states, "Ultimately, the controversy surrounding the status of posthumous bronze casts is an important part of the history of these works." It appears that Arseneau is certainly more well versed in that particular history than I am, but that isn't saying too much, I'd readily admit.



February 4, 2010, 11:40 PM

There's not that much history. Degas left a lot of sculptures crumbling in his work rooms. If the later casters got the idea right, why not cast them?

If Degas could come back to see them, he'd probably shit BBs, no matter what they did.
And that's the charm of Degas.



February 4, 2010, 11:49 PM

Here's a bit of text from a document I found online from the NGA:

"Then recently discov-ered in the Paris basement of the Hébrard Foundry,after having been presumed lost for almost forty years,these sculptures had just been exhibited in New York atthe M. Knoedler & Co. gallery. In Richmond’s VirginiaMuseum of Fine Arts, works were displayed for thefirst time, the original wax and mixed-media sculptures juxtaposed with the same subjects in bronze.
Perhaps in addition to the aesthetic appeal of thesesculptures, Paul Mellon was drawn by their educationalvalue. These waxes were after all the originals, the ob-jects that bore the artist’s immediate touch, and yet thebronzes were also very beautiful, if not more so.... Degas’s heirs could not bear the thoughtof destroying the wax models by traditional bronze-casting methods, and succeeded in finding a way topreserve these singular works. So taken was he by themthat Paul Mellon bought the whole collection en bloc.

The Mellon purchase became the catalyst forgreatly expanded scholarship about Degas and hissculpture. Public perception of Degas as a sculptor washeightened and deepened by knowledge of the bronzecasts copied from Paul Mellon’s original models. Withthis renewed critical attention we are also learning moreabout the very mysterious history of these sculptures.Through Paul Mellon’s intercession, the wax and mixed-media sculptures have been preserved—itself a chal-lenging task—and today are considered among themost innovative works of our century. At the sametime, the serialized casts also attracted widening publicattention by virtue of their appealing subjects or sim-ply the cachet of the name Degas; but the process wasvery slow, and limited to a slowly expanding public."



February 4, 2010, 11:53 PM

Please forgive the nasty formatting... a poor copy, but it gives the flavour of the original.

Degas, surely, never intended me to photograph any of these works for transmission over the internet, either...



February 5, 2010, 2:28 AM

I have lots to add, but very little sobriety, and even less time. (Thank you Cervezas Alhambra Reserva!) The internets aren't going away when I turn my head and they never seem to wait for me to find my two cents.


Chris Rywalt

February 5, 2010, 8:24 AM

Zoë Blackler got in touch with a number of art bloggers back in November about another batch of supposed-to-be Degas plaster casts that were found recently. I didn't write about it but Linnea West did.

I've always sort of wondered why famous sculptures aren't reproduced more often. Seems to me it'd be fairly easy to do, especially with modern technology. There's a bit in Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land where one of the characters orders up perfect reproductions of several Rodin sculptures including "The Caryatid Carrying a Stone" and, most importantly, "She Who Was the Helmet-Maker's Beautiful Wife", about which the character gives a lovely speech.

I didn't know until now that the Degas bronzes you can find all over the place were made after he died. It sort of weakens them for me, even though it perhaps shouldn't. Not that they were ever my favorites anyway. I suspect they're beloved because they produce an "Aw Effect" in some viewers, the way cute kittens on YouTube do, and possibly also because there are enough of them for nearly every museum to have one or two around.



February 5, 2010, 10:27 AM

It looks like Arsenau is trying very hard to get noticed. It also sounds like a case of someone who doth protest too much. If I have to go with someone on this matter, I'd take Mellon over him.



February 5, 2010, 11:12 AM

The deal is that Degas never intended the sculptures to even survive. He started really getting into them when he began to lose his sight, mentioning that the sculptures were about contour line, which was about all he could see clearly at that time, and which, after all, was the center of his art. But he didn't regard them as finished works. They were just temporary manifestations of his thinking.

Toward the end, Degas went around complaining about everything (He lived long enough to see the beloved Belle Epoch eliminated by WWI) and especially his eyes. But Cassett claimed that his eye complaints were just part of his tendency to exaggerate everything.



February 5, 2010, 11:37 AM

Is there any way to prove what Degas did or did not want done with or about his sculptures once he died? Obviously his estate approved the bronze castings, so who made Arsenau arbiter on the matter?



February 5, 2010, 11:52 AM

I'm with Jack here. Arceneau may be right in the distinction he makes, MC, between artists who intend to let others replicate their work & others who didn't, but who really knows how Degas would have reacted to the bronze versions of his sculptures? If presented with a fait accompli, he might have said hmm, those look better than I thought they would.



February 5, 2010, 1:21 PM

So, in other words, Gary Arseneau is right, but the way he keeps banging his drum makes people want to cover their ears.

Well, here's a non-Gary take on the exact same issue, that might be easier to take.

The linked author asks an interesting rhetorical question, making an appropriate analogy: "What would be the reaction, for instance, to seeing a reproduction of Donatello's polychromed wood Magdalen as a hardened statue of patinated bronze? Would we consider such a work to be a Donatello?"

Back to Arseneau, It's patently not a question of whether anyone would "take Mellon over him": Mellon knew damn well that the wax and clay pieces were the only true Degas pieces, which is why he bought the precious little fragile things. Acknowledging the fact that the bronzes aren't by Degas does not necessarily entail thinking less of them as works of art (Chris Rywalt's view excepted)... it just means they aren't really by Degas, and shouldn't be unqualifiedly presented as if they are. It's just technical, historical accuracy, and should hardly be dismissed with a wave of the hand, or shushed away. Truth still matters.

What Degas "might have thought" if he had a time machine and were here today (assuming his mental faculties remained unchanged throughout that wormhole journey, etc, etc.) is obviously idle speculation, so it's a moot point. The following seems to be a well-known exchange, referred to often by the Degas scholars interested in this issue:

"Though he saw his sculptures as rough, unfinished sketches, Degas once confided in sculptor Aristide Maillot his aspirations to see his pieces cast in bronze one day. But he refrained from doing so.

“It is a tremendous responsibility to leave anything behind in bronze - this medium is for eternity,” Degas once said. "



February 5, 2010, 1:22 PM

p.s. That misspelling of Maillol was in the article I cut that excerpt from...


Chris Rywalt

February 5, 2010, 1:44 PM

The reason my view changed is I thought they were by Degas, not of Degas. My own ignorance. But then I know very little about casting and so forth in general, aside from the fact that there used to be craftsmen at every stage of the process -- mold-making, casting, patina -- who largely don't exist these days.

I often pass the New Jersey Art Foundry on Route 1&9 and wonder about it. I think the building's condemned.



February 5, 2010, 1:47 PM

Chris, I think the only way you can say your view of the pieces themselves has actually changed is if you go and look at them again, which, of course, you should, and which you, lucky bastard, can do by trundling down to the Met, if I'm not mistaken.

Did I say lucky bastard, already?



February 5, 2010, 2:13 PM

Having now glanced over Arceneau's original screed (which I confess I hadn't originally), I admit that he seems to be up on the most recent pronouncements on posthumous castings (when I say recent, though, they mostly seem to date from 1974, when as I recall this original controversy arose). I guess what's so irritating about him is his singleminded attack on this particular show. I would like to know whether the Art Gallery of Alberta is the first to show those bronze castings. I very much doubt it. My guess would be that many museums & galleries have exhibited them, though doubtless in the fine print of the labels or in the catalogue they usually admit that Degas wasn't singlehandedly responsible for them. Labeling them "forgeries," as Arceneau so stridently does, strikes me as a bit much. A forgery to me is something made entirely by somebody else than the artist whose name is invoked as the creator, and with the bronze castings, they were derived, directly or indirectly, from models made by Degas.


Chris Rywalt

February 5, 2010, 2:17 PM

I could go look at them. I'll see them again eventually, I imagine. I mean my metaphorical view. Philosophical view. Something like that.

It helps that I never thought they were that great. Degas paintings: Good. The bronze dancers: Okay. They seem kind of kitschy to me.

My daughter is a dancer and I've had the urge for years to draw (and possibly paint) dancers but Degas hangs heavy over the subject. It makes it difficult.



February 5, 2010, 2:23 PM

An art forgery, by definition, is deliberately made to deceive, to pass for something it is not, typically to get someone to pay big money for it. Calling these bronzes "forgeries" is a shrill distortion of the facts, and I find the shrillness rather suspect, or at least imbalanced and ill-mannered.



February 5, 2010, 2:46 PM

Gary Arseneau (note the spelling) appears to have beating this drum for quite a while, in regard to other showings of these 'after-Degas' bronzes, as evidenced by a cursory web search of related keywords (of course, all these searches show are the documents that are on the Web, so they may be limited by the age of the internet). Additionally, I have no idea how old Arseneau is, but perhaps, like myself, he wasn't even alive in 1974, so let's not hold that against him. Even if he was born yesterday, his main point still stands.

In fact, we would probably have a more intelligent discussion about this issue if we left 'Arseneau the Man' out of it entirely, and focused on the issue itself, leaving aside the pointless ad hominems.

Here's another article on an entirely different show:

"Despite protests from several of his friends, after Degas' death in 1917, his family had 74 of these sculptures reproduced in multiple copies in bronze."

So, it looks like the "controversy" started well before 1974.

The AGA borrowed these works from scattered collections of several museums, so no, they are not the first to show them. But, that's completely irrelevant to the issue. It really is a very simple issue, which seems to boil down to two related points:

1. are the bronzes cast according to the wishes of the artist whose name they are exhibited under?

2. are the bronzes cast from Degas' own wax/plastilene/etc. models, or are they cast from copies made by someone else?

Answering these two factual questions does not answer any aesthetic questions. It is merely making a distinction between a "Degas" and an "After Degas".

Piri, your distinction between "forgeries" and works "derived indirectly from models" is, shall we say, an exceedingly subtle one... too subtle for me to grasp, that's for sure. I don't think I can even conceive of a forgery that isn't "derived indirectly from models".



February 5, 2010, 2:59 PM

All that really needs doing is for it to be made explicit that the bronzes were made posthumously, not by Degas but after models or maquettes by him. Has the AGA or any other museum who's exhibited these bronzes ever claimed they were made or directly supervised by Degas himself?



February 5, 2010, 3:29 PM

Good question, Jack. I don't know. I think it might be a matter of picking on the disjoint between marketing and promoting the show as "Degas Sculptures" in the advertising, while quietly noting the posthumousness in the fine print once you're inside. A demand (albeit shrill) for 'truth in advertising', basically.

But, further, it is not just a matter of taking Degas' own wax models and casting them in bronze without his express written consent: it is the idea of a foundry artisan making their own wax version after the Degas wax original, and then making the bronze using the artisan copy, not the artist original.

If that is the case, AND we think they are good, then the foundry artisan arguably deserves to have his name on the card in the gallery, as much as, or possibly more than, Degas does.

Me, I hardly ever even read the labels, so it wouldn't make much difference to me. I'm not an art history wonk, but some people are, and it seems like they should get this shit right.


Chris Rywalt

February 5, 2010, 3:37 PM

I've seen the dancer in the Met more than once and never knew it wasn't from Degas' own hand (or anyway made through the usual bronze statue channels).

Then again I'm also surprised at how many Rodins there are out there. And I thought I was lucky that they have so many in Philadelphia!

So I guess I don't read the fine print, either.



February 5, 2010, 4:20 PM

This brings to mind classical Japanese prints, which were always after an artist's design; the designer never cut the wood blocks or did the printing himself. That's why even posthumous versions from recut wood blocks, made using the same manual processes and materials as the "originals," are arguably as legitimate if made well enough (though of course they'd never have the same market value).

But yes, people should know what they're looking at or dealing with, and I expect that should be made more clear or explicit. Yelling "forgeries," however, is rather melodramatic.



February 5, 2010, 4:39 PM

Another interesting situation is the prints after drawings or paintings by Turner, specifically those made under his direct and very exacting supervision (he was reportedly hell on his engravers, and there were a fair number of them). In some cases, Turner himself etched the basic design on a metal plate, and then turned it over to a professional engraver for further elaboration and refinement. The whole enterprise was his baby, though there were typically professional print publishers involved, as Turner meant to profit from the business. A good number of these prints after Turner, particularly those of his Liber Studiorum series, are quite superb.



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