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Please Allow Me to Re-Introduce Myself

Post #1473 • December 14, 2011, 7:52 AM • 14 Comments

A blog? In late 2011? That's so... mid-2008.

[Image: Gift shop outside of de Kooning exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, November 2011]

Gift shop outside of de Kooning exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, November 2011

A regular reader warned me, when I told him that I was working on restarting the blog, that I should consider whether anyone would care. It was a fair point. Here we are, thick in the Age of Facebook and Twitter. We are long past the Golden Age of Blogging, which began with the first posts of The Minor Fall, The Major Lift, and ended when Ftrain became a quarterly publication. (I'm dating myself, I know. We're talking about ancient history, four to eight years ago.)

On the other hand, after a 20-month pause, circumstances feel right to pick it up again. I return to you as a regular contributor to Art in America and not infrequent writer for the New Criterion, among other fine publications like Artcritical and The Arts Fuse. Twice a week I feature exhibitions at the New York Sun. The plucky lad with a day job who snapped up a good domain name and charged the art establishment comes back to you with an art career, legitimate press credentials, and a certain seasoning that sets in when realism replaces idealism. The adventure continues, and I'd rather record it here than on Facebook.

I knew that getting fixed up was going to be a major project, so my first move was to enlist the help of Chris Rywalt, who is a fine programmer. Chris coaxed nigh 1500 posts and associated comments into well-formed, valid XML (the previous format was FPML - Franklin's Pathetic Markup Language), created a new directory tree, moved images into a sensible directory structure, and in myriad other ways saved me three months of work. Chris also provided useful sanity checks regarding the new storage system, which is based on the Atom Publishing Protocol. I hacked the content management system, which is written in XSLT and served over a CherryPy instance.

Along the way we gained familiarity with things normal humans don't have to deal with, like the niceties of RFC 3339, recursive identity templates, and UTF-8 encoding. As a result, the old content management system, which was built from balsa wood and thumbtacks, has been replaced by new one forged from surgical steel. For instance, the new XML feed (for all you aggregator users out there) cannot die. So is back and ready for the long haul.

That said, to quote Heraclitus, you can't step in the same river twice.

Commenting from here on out is going to be entirely different, both in logistics and policy. I owe a debt of gratitude for the loyal participation of regulars over the years. But in a new professional situation marked by constantly looming writing deadlines, a studio practice, and several side projects, it's not reasonable to also try to maintain an unrestricted public forum. I'll miss the freewheeling exchanges, but the energies I put into community maintenance and the never-ending battle against comment spam are due elsewhere.

For one, a model is coming to the studio this afternoon.



Chris Rywalt

December 14, 2011, 8:01 AM

I dare you to edit this.



December 14, 2011, 8:06 AM

Challenge accepted. You now link to your favorite website.


Rob Willms

December 14, 2011, 8:10 PM

Finally, after clicking every hour of every waking, jacked-in day, I must've got the code-key combo right. Now I've just got to be careful not to touch whatever buttons turned it off on me a year-and-a-half ago...


Chris Rywalt

December 15, 2011, 10:41 PM

I'm sufficiently horrified now, thank you.


John Link

December 17, 2011, 1:11 AM

Congrats to Franklin and Chris for the beautiful state of the archived threads from Artblog One. It is a thrill to see them so well presented.

Now we must see what becomes of Artblog Two. The Duchampians have overrun the hedonists in a way that suggests a classic consensus of taste has asserted itself, pronounced by the same art system that credentialed Pollock and company's art of pleasure. But no, it's not a consensus of taste; it is a consensus of intellect, which is a very different beast. That, however, in no way diminishes the extent and effect of its victory.

By and large, Artblog One embodied the hopeful belief that the victory was not really a victory. But the victory continues to stand and simply cannot be denied. I'm curious how the citizens of Artblog Two will cope with that.



December 17, 2011, 10:05 PM

Thank you, John.

I gave your comment a lot of thought, and I think the bottom line is that art history is not my problem. It may just be as simple as that. My job is to make the art I want to make and get it in front of the people who want to look at it. If that somehow ends up contributing to contemporary art history, so be it. If it doesn't, so be that instead.

A few things, though. One is that while the system that credentialed Pollock went on to credential different kinds of activities, it can't do it in the same way anymore because there is too much material out there. People used to be in the Whitney Biennial, for instance, over and over again. Paul Cadmus at one point had been in more Whitney Biennials than any other artist. Now, more typically, it's a whole new crew every time. The credentialing is far more diluted than it used to be.

Two is that I go to New York every month or two and there's a ton of decent, non-Duchampian painting getting exhibited and sold. I even found that at the Miami fairs. I think that there's a wide disparity between certain museums and certain segments of the market. Eventually that disparity is going to collapse a hundred years down the line when non-exemplars of the preferred programming of our time gets donated to them, or they'll end up in the many museums that don't adhere to nihilist programs.

Three, I don't subscribe to the notion of victory. I talked about this in my paper on academicism. My instinct is that the people declaring victory feel compelled to do so because they've already lost. Everyone else is just working on what they want to work on.


John Link

December 18, 2011, 1:01 AM

Franklin, you say " history is not my problem." I wish I could agree with you. But even in this, my 70th year, I remain ambitious. I want my work to matter, and matter in my own lifetime. If it did, there is more that I could do than I do, for sure. But it really is just a blunt matter of fact - I want my stuff to matter and I doubt I am alone in this feeling. Nor do I understand how you came to no longer have it. Since I'm also serious, I would not consider "selling out" to achieve this, and there are other lines I wouldn't cross either... casting couch (do I flatter myself?), etc. But so what? Having personal standards is not incompatible with wanting fame.

I like your point about there being "too much material out there." But some do emerge credentialed: Warhol, Koons, Hirst, Johns, to name a few artists I simply can't fathom being where they are. Well, maybe Johns I understand a little, but just a little.

Of course there are counterpoints to the Duchampians. No victory is 100 percent to zero. Even Napoleon killed some of his enemy at Waterloo. With art that stimulates the intellect so dominant, it creates a backlash automatically, often with a dose of nostalgia, for what it displaced. But it is interesting how Greenberg started with "give 'em two years" and now you are at "one hundred" before the backlash steps back in front. In the meantime, Olitski's latest show is at a museum that doesn't adhere to "nihilist programs" and also doesn't count much in the world of art opinion. They won't let him in, even though he has made the ultimate career move (dying).

I have not noticed the Duchampians declaring victory. They simply assume it and they are correct. It might be worthwhile to examine how they did it - how the almost forgotten and certainly lost urinal had to be resurrected from a photograph to even be shown in the '50s, then made it to the cover of Sotheby's last catalog of the 20th century as the work that set the pace for the entire century.

Illuminating the difference between the consensus of the intellect and the consensus of taste might be one place to start. But the road will be long, on that we agree. I'll up your one hundred to two hundred.


Rob Willms

December 18, 2011, 6:03 PM

Hm. I don't suppose I care very much about my own art-historical canonizability, except insofar as I aim to make sculptures that won't be thrown away for a thousand years, give or take a century—without concern that my name stay attached to the things, or even remembered. Such a long view, though, is a sort of staring at the sun, and it bleaches out the near-to, short-term self-promotion that keeps the studio open.



December 19, 2011, 3:14 PM

I want my work to matter, and matter in my own lifetime.

Matter to whom? If serious acceptance means appealing to the people who inherited the mechanisms of credentialing and then proceeded to misapply them, you did the wrong things by staying out of New York City and not putting interpretable content into your work. Which would have guaranteed nothing, but even if you succeeded, it's like the old saw - even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat.

Or do you want it to matter to people who appreciate abstract painting? We already do. Success is yours. Please make more of them.

They won't let him in...

A major retrospective at the Kemper is higher regard than most artists will ever receive. And that is likely not the end of the road for his work.

I have not noticed the Duchampians declaring victory. They simply assume it and they are correct.

Again, I covered this in the Pejoratives paper. Even Ernesto Pujol admits that most of the art being made across the country is non-conceptual. To my eye most of the work getting made in New York is non-conceptual as well, insofar as it has form that has been dealt with in a visual way. I have written four articles for Art in America in the last year, none of which was about a conceptual artist. Most art being made right now is non-Duchampian. Also, as I put it a couple of months ago at Adam Lindemann's Observer column:

According to Lindemann, conceptual art is not just one of several interesting developments in 20th-century art. Rather, it "prevailed," and of this there is "no doubt," at least no doubt in the author. Meanwhile, many thousands of artists - likely, most of them - work in styles informed by abstraction, Cubism, modernist slants on figuration, and non-conceptualist strains of postmodernism. Even conceptual artists, forty years after the first examples of the genre, are finding that they have to think thoroughly about form in order to avoid disappearing into the long history of conceptual gestures. None of that matters to Lindemann, who says that the museum failed to bring de Kooning alive to a younger generation, assuming against the evidence that the younger generation hews fully to Lindemann's conceptualist model.

So I'm with Rob about keeping the studio open. There's little chance of making a mark on history anyway, but if the studio closes, there's none.


Chris Rywalt

December 19, 2011, 11:47 PM

I'd like to point out that whatever beauty is to be found in the current incarnation of the site is Franklin's fault. All I did was relatively simple back-end rejiggering and a little debugging. The feeling of being able to contribute a bit and not look like a nitwit far outweighed the effort I expended.

[Reply from Franklin: I'd like to point out that what Chris is calling "relatively simple rejiggering" was a complete directory overhaul that I had little idea how to do and would have likely have screwed up when I figured it out a method, which would have taken a long time. Chris is the only reason the site didn't relaunch in 2012. Thanks again, man.]


Alan Pocaro

December 20, 2011, 11:09 AM

There are a million other things I need to be doing right now, but I want to weigh in on this one. I found out about after it was too late, so I feel like this is my chance get in on the ground floor of the new building.

I agree with Franklin, only a fraction of the art being made and shown is truly conceptual. When I was in NYC at the end of October, I marveled at how little heavy-mental work I saw. I saw a lot of bad art, but not much bad conceptualism. I think there are a lot of reasons for that, foremost being that the art world is a huge, unregulated marketplace. It's the closest thing to laissez-faire capitalism I have ever seen. As such, you have to give the customers what they want, and few people are equipped to breathe the rarefied air that is conceptualism. Most folks with cash want something for that new lower east side condo they just bought. I think that's good news for us.

Now, as I wade knee-deep into my second year of teaching, I've discovered that art and art in an academic setting are two very different things. Art is not an intellectual activity, and problems arise from putting a non-intellectual activity into an academic environment. At least English grammar has some kind of built-in validating mechanism, but art? That's why grad critiques wind up in 45 minute tailspins, discussing non-aesthetic issues. Because how long can you sustain a conversation about something that's felt rather than understood? Not very long. But I can talk forever about about global warming or bio-warfare or whatever the hell else my students say their work is "about." So these kids are turned out into the world already indoctrinated in a kind of "cult of thought," and they maintain that conceptual veneer for a few years, but eventually even they see it for the fraud that it is. So artists might use a "concept shield" just in case an old professor is lurking around somewhere, but for the most part, no one really buys it anymore, and I think that's reflected in the vast majority of the art, however bad, that we currently see.

And if anyone actually invokes Duchamp or a lot of "theory" to justify their practice around me (which happens), I simply dismiss them and say, "It's not 1995 anymore. I wish it was, but we all have to move on."


Walter Darby Bannard

December 20, 2011, 12:33 PM

Pocaro has the right idea. He is seeing it clearly. "It's not 1995 any more," said with a sneering sense of superiority, is the kind of implicit ridicule which will eventually embarrass the posties and make them shut up.

"Concept shield" is a good phrase and should be perpetuated. I experienced it just last week with a kid who is a real artist and draws like crazy but had his pomo defenses ready and waiting. It's a little like 50 or 60 years ago when realism was anathema and Abstract Expressionism was all the rage. People would hedge by sticking in little realist bits and saying that they were expressing the spirit of the thing, whatever it was. Or that Ben Shahn was better than Pollock because his pictures had abstraction and realism.

Crits do not have to turn away from the art at hand. Mine don't. Just insist on talking about what is really there, and how to make it better as art.


A Reader

December 20, 2011, 9:02 PM

The current official art system is like someone from The Invasion of the Body Snatchers who's been invaded and taken over by an alien entity. The outward appearance, the trappings, give a semblance of continuity with the former being, but that is merely a front. The driving force, the essence, is quite different, radically so. Obviously, there is a receptive or accepting public for this system, comprised of all manner of enablers with a variety of motives and interests. Hence, the thing persists—and will, as long as its institutional and socioeconomic underpinnings hold up. I suppose, in its way and on its terms, it's a valid enterprise or business, certainly as far as its providers and customers are concerned.

The question, for those incompatible with said system, is what to do? To me, it seems quite simple: go elsewhere. Find or create a compatible alternative. Do something that suits and satisfies you. Unless, of course, you cannot forgo being "with-it" or "belonging" to the officially sanctioned and approved establishment, in which case you will have to fit yourself somehow into whatever slot or space the system will allow you. I believe it's called compromise or accommodation, if not capitulation. To each his own solution, such as it may be.

In my case, it's very easy, and frankly, this should only be problematic for an artist or an art-worker, which I'm not. I'm also a distinctly atypical person, generally speaking, which helps (at least in this instance). I have an apparently congenital disdain for fashion, which I see as a means to manipulate people and/or get their money, and I find fashion victims (of any sort) contemptible. I have never gone for what I was supposed to go for, so that I'm quite used to being "out-of-it" and "non-scene." And, furthermore, I'm secure or arrogant enough to insist on the premise that art exists for my benefit and must meet my requirements, not the other way around—meaning I am the final arbiter, period. That may be very Louis XIV, but it works for me, and that's my bottom line.

For what it's worth, I did do the "open-minded" and "benefit of the doubt" thing for a while, but I got progressively fed up with wasting considerable time and energy on very meager returns. Feeling increasingly foolish became intolerable, or at least unacceptable. I stopped banging my head against the wall, and lo, it stopped hurting. My time and energy were henceforth focused on and reserved for high-yield pursuits, such as graphic arts (think Whistler, not Warhol) and Japanese ceramics.

Years ago, I opted to cut TV out of my life. Completely. It's not just that I don't miss it, but that I can't see the point of bothering with it. There are better options. Take one.


David Richardson

December 23, 2011, 2:57 AM

I hear a distant rumble of cannon fire, but frankly had forgotten there was a war. I'm with Franklin—there's a lot of visual art out there, and even Duchamp's urinal is subject to nuanced re-interpretation—granted this one was published in Norwegian by a ceramics scholar.

Congratulations, Franklin, on your joyful persistence. I like the format. It seems like a logical development of the form. I for one think Japanese tea bowls have a lot of conceptual content, which tells me both that the larger perception of art does develop, and also that some things stay the same (channeling a little Bodidharma with some Matthew Collings thrown in). The thing I still like about Facebook is the thing I liked about Artblog One—I find there are some good conversations going on and it's where the most interesting people still hang out.



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