Research

Post-Minimalism for All

In yesterday’s New York Times, Roberta Smith champions painting, and states a formal history of–and argument against–the idea that painting is dead (“It’s Not Dry Yet,” March 26, 2010).

This is a positive follow up to her negative opinion, “Post-Minimal to the Max,” (NYTimes.com, February 2, 2010), in which Smith takes aim at the current slate of exhibitions at NYC’s major museums. Exhibitions of the work of Gabriel Orozco, Roni Horn, Urs Fischer, and Tino Seghal

…share a visual austerity and coolness of temperature that are dispiritingly one-note. After encountering so many bare walls and open spaces, after examining so many amalgams of photography, altered objects, seductive materials and Conceptual puzzles awaiting deciphering, I started to feel as if it were all part of a big-box chain featuring only one brand.

…Instead [of individuation and difference] we’re getting example after example of squeaky-clean, well-made, intellectually decorous takes on that unruly early ’70s mix of Conceptual, Process, Performance, installation and language-based art that is most associated with the label Post-Minimalism. Either that or we’re getting exhibitions of the movement’s most revered founding fathers: since 2005, for example, the Whitney has mounted exhibitions of Robert Smithson, Lawrence Weiner, Gordon Matta-Clark and Dan Graham. I liked these shows, but that’s not the point. We cannot live by the de-materialization — or the slick re-materialization — of the art object alone.

Smith put it rather bluntly (I don’t think we could live by expressionistic painting alone, either), and I relate to feeling bored by monotony in exhibitions. At the same time, however, I take issue with her points, and my reaction is grounded in my identities and environment.

First, if the post-Minimal programming of New York’s art institutions sync up, who cares? In the end you still got to see the Tino Seghal show at the Guggenheim, and the Urs Fischer show at the New Museum. The phrase “embarrassment of riches” comes to mind.

Second, this is a generational and coastal difference, but I never really perceived any serious threat to painting. San Francisco’s unique history in conceptual and performance art is known amongst specialists, but many more know about Barry McGee, and the San Francisco Mission School of painting that he helped to popularize. I found the arguments against the death of painting fatiguing in my studies–along the same lines as eye-rollers like “So what is art?”–so I find it perplexing that Smith would take up arms for painting now.

To state the obvious, painting’s not going anywhere. The Everyman still considers “painting” and “art” synonymous, to the exasperation of non-painters everywhere. Most art museums house room after room of paintings. Most art stores feature a prominent aisle of paints and brushes. Ask people to draw the idea “art” and I guarantee that three of the top 10 responses you get will be: a palette with paints (you know, the round one with a hole for your thumb), gilt picture frame and canvas on an easel. Extending “pictorial history” is just not my priority, nor should it necessarily be curators’.

Third, I’m reminded of something the artist Paul Chan enigmatically said in his SFAI lecture, about “those who’ve been left behind by Modernism” — subcultures who are developing their own Modernisms, not to speak of tackling Post-Modernism (or Post-Minimalism, for that matter). I think that if thousands of tourists and students get to see the retrospectives by Roni Horn (the only female artist on Smith’s lists) or Gabriel Orozco (the only artist of color and person from the Global South; not splitting hairs about Gordon Matta-Clark, OK?), good for all of them.

Smithson, Matta-Clark, Graham and Weiner form like a board of directors of Post-Minimalism, and though I’d wonder what makes a Weiner show urgent or necessary, I’d guess that scores of art students and artists are grateful for the chances to see Smithson’s, Matta-Clark’s and Graham’s work in person, a small ameliorative for the feeling of being born too late to see Earth works and site-specific interventions of the 1960s and 70s. Smithson and Graham are significant influences for young contemporary artists, especially when you look at the resurgence of cheeky Romanticism in the curatorial work of Lawrence Rinder, the earthy Transcendentalism of shows like Alchemy at Southern Exposure and the emphasis on viewers in social/relational art.

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Art & Development

Zeitgeists, LA art, Mysteries

Frieze, January-February 2010. Source: Frieze.com.

Even critics who hate contemporary art reckon on [the zeitgeist]—it allows them to use a small handful of particularly loathed examples in order to damn an entire system.

Dan Fox, “Spirit Guide: The Many Uses o f the Zeitgeist,” Frieze, January-February 2010.

If I had a nickel for every time someone cited Damien Hirst’s diamond-covered skull as everything that’s wrong with contemporary art….

There are certain sectors of the art world that crave a useful social role for art. Other see art as an activity making important contributions to intellectual discourse. Many look to art for pleasure. And then there are those who appreciate all of this seriousness, but crave the trappings of the entertainment industry too—fame, power, money, glamour, hierarchies, cultural parochialism. One year the art world is interested in this, the next year it’s interested in that. It wants to party, it wants to be scholarly. Markets go up, markets go down. … Everything changes and nothing changes…

—Fox, cont.

Fox’s tone might be interpreted as weary, or maybe even cynical. But I like to think that this passage is the art critic’s equivalent of the maxim, This too shall pass. Chasing the next trend in contemporary art, and comiserating about contradictions in the art world’s collective behavior, isn’t worth the time. Paradox happens.

Glimpse a tiny peek at the massive (9×14′ and up) photographs in Andreas Gursky‘s new exhibition at Gagosian Beverly Hills in “Andreas Gursky makes a long-distance connection” by Suzanne Muchnic, LA Times (March 6, 2010). They’re really a sight to behold.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, rule of thumb. Source: LATimes.com

Check out another great LA Times art review—this one of Minimum Yields Maximum, a group exhibition curated by Gina Osterloh and written by Leah Ollman.

Laura Collins-Hughes inaugurates a new series on alternative arts spaces with a profile of the very artist-friendly non-profit Southern Exposure for ARTicles, the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program.

I had a great time at SoEx’s Monster Drawing Rally, and was really pleased with the result of my hour (OK, 70 minutes) of cutting and collaging. Photos are forthcoming.

Brice Bischoff, Bronson Caves, 2010

Brice Bischoff, Bronson Caves, 2010. Source: SoEx.org


Alchemy, SoEx’s next exhibition, looks like it’s gonna be killer. Curated by Sarah Smith, the artists include Ellen Babcock, Brice Bischoff, Michelle Blade, John Chiara, Randy Colosky, Adam Hathaway, Christopher Sicat, Lindsey White. I suspect there will be many nicely executed photographs about magic in the mundane, and some unabashedly transcendentalist paintings and works on paper. A few years ago, I found San Francisco’s glut of dreamy, semi-ironic, new-age-y paintings terribly insincere and pretentious in their faux-naïveté. I’m still averse to woo-woo-for-woo-woo’s-sake, and laziness regardless of how it’s stylized. Alchemy presents highly capable artists and I’m looking forward to this show. Maybe I’ve sipped the Kool-Aid and it tasted great…. Drink it all in at the opening, Friday, March 12, 7-9pm, concurrent with the opening of Alison Pebworth’s Beautiful Possibility.

Image: Michelle Blade. Source: basebasebase.com

Image: Michelle Blade. Source: basebasebase.com


…Along those same lines, Michelle Blade‘s work can exhibit an earnestness that is anachronistically un-ironic, but I really loved every minute of viewing Blow as Deep as You Want to Blow, her solo exhibition at Triple Base Gallery (through March 21). [Full disclosure: she’s a collaborator of mine; I constructed the lightbox in the show.] She’s turned her high attention to materials and craftsmanship towards transcendence, patterned rugs and metaphysical books. Deploying opalescent paints and vellum marked on both sides, she’s created physical experiences of radiance. It’s Romanticism for 2010. Go see it in person. The front room is great, and if the back room, filled with accomplished works on paper, is not enough, there’s even more works on paper spilling over in a portfolio on the flat files. Inspirational work ethic and spirit-informing content matter.

Perhaps that’s why mystery, now more than ever, has special meaning. Because it’s the anomaly, the glaring affirmation that the Age of Immediacy has a meaningful downside. Mystery demands that you stop and consider—or, at the very least, slow down and discover. It’s a challenge to get there yourself, on its terms, not yours….

The point is, we should never underestimate process. The experience of the doing really is everything. The ending should be the end of that experience, not the experience itself.

J.J. Abrams, “J.J. Abrams on the Magic of Mystery,” Wired Magazine, 17.05, April 20, 2009.

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