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Yokelism with your wallet out

Post #1470 • March 25, 2010, 11:15 AM • 107 Comments

Dushko Petrovich, who has the coolest name of any art writer in America, wrote an essay for the Globe entitled How to start an art revolution: A manifesto for Boston.

That alternative [to New York] would be a community more on a European model, where universities, museums, and other public institutions — including the government, which can help with health care and rent stabilization — combine to encourage a different, less market-dependent approach to creating art. Without ignoring the art market, Boston could position itself as a place to engage it more inventively, providing a much-needed haven for less commercial and more experimental work that pushes culture forward. Instead of (badly) imitating New York, Boston could provide a counterpoint: a well-considered sanctuary for artists to develop at a less frenzied pace, carefully harnessing the city’s wealth of tradition to the perennial strength of its youth.

Politically we're on entirely different footing here, but some of his ensuing suggestions are good ones: a satellite space for the geographically remote (by Boston standards) ICA, study centers around town for Museum of Fine Art holdings, debt elimination (in other words, scholarships equal to tuition) in art degree programs. I also happen to agree with him that Boston is poised for greatness; it's one of the reasons I was drawn here. On the other hand, the world needs another MFA program, even one at Harvard, like a hole in the head. And rent control? Really? What renders artistic types so wholly immune to basic economics? Speaking of economics, commenter columbogal mentioned a wee problem I've heard about before:

The reason there are no galleries is because Bostonians do not PURCHASE art. For the most part it's a family-centered town and it's usually single people with disposable income who buy art (we're not talking collectors here). Students don't count, they have no money. That's why the art scene thrives in towns like LA and NY with lots of singles and lots of extra cash.

ethananthony adds:

We operated a gallery on Newbury [Street], a start-up from 1996-2000. In the beginning we had many successful shows but towards the end shows with beautiful work that produced no sales for the artists. No art scene can flourish in a town where the people do not buy art. We featured work of students of many local Universities and Art Schools and never received a word of support from any of their institutions. No support was ever forthcoming from the Boston Globe, the Mayor's office of cultural affairs or the Back bay Association though we did receive lots of requests to donate money or pay higher and higher taxes. In the end the golden goose was killed by greed. The art scene is lost and Newbury Street is a commercial shell of its original self.

The article's subtitle, "A manifesto for Boston," may not have been one of the author's choosing, but it's a shame to not cite previous recent work by Greg Cook on this selfsame topic in the form of a series of Yokelist Manifestos. (Scroll down while looking over the left sidebar for the Yokelism header.) Yokelism is Greg's charming coinage and he deserves full credit for both the term and the approach. But even Greg's excellent suggestions don't include a solution to the problem of Bostonians not buying art, and I tend to think that other measures will be largely palliative until that problem is solved. And so...

One: The plural of anecdote is not data. Until someone does proper market research on who is buying how much of what and why, there's no way to come up with an informed strategy to increase the numbers of who, the size of how much, and the reasons why. This effort is quite beyond the scope of my paltry abilities, but with all the schools in the region, and consequently all the business programs, it seems like a little bit of coordination could give a group of eager students an opportunity to make an important contribution to local cultural knowledge.

Two: There are about the same number of visual art venues in the six-state New England region as there are in Los Angeles County, as I found out by counting them in the annual guide that Art in America puts out. This makes concentrated art-viewing less of an evening out and more of a day trip or overnight excursion, as our man Smee demonstrated a couple of weeks ago. Mere findability is an unsolved problem. Openings outside of Boston should probably occur less often and include hotel and dining deals. Imagine an art outing to North Adams and Williamstown that included a sweet offer to stay at The Porches and eat at Mezze.

Three: As Greg has noted, the galleries have been getting shaken up or wiped out at a surprising rate over the last couple of years. Meanwhile, Boston in particular and New England in general have an unusual number of studio collectives: Brickbottom, Fort Point, South End, Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, Hyde Park, Somerville, and probably dozens more. This returns an unusual amount of control over career concerns to the artists, where it rightfully belongs, but it also guarantees that purchasing activity and criticism are never going to align in a way that causes one to fuel the other. It may be that this is a better town for independent curating than dealing. Instead of trying to sustain a store, independent curators could make a name for themselves by staging short exhibitions in temporary venues, which would allow for commensurately shorter-lived financial obligations between all the parties concerned, less risk of disaster, and probably just as much benefit to reputations and careers for both the curators and the artists as would be generated by normal gallery exhibitions. Perhaps the recently liberated Maya Allison could blaze a trail here.

Four: Boston has an unusually rich concentration of people who work in technological media, enough to support the Boston Cyberarts Festival, Axiom Gallery, Art Technology New England, Willoughby & Baltic, and a chapter of Dorkbot among others. It also has an unusually rich concentration of technology businesses. Artists, meet your patrons. ATNE could go a long way towards setting those connections up.

Five: Creators in the region are making important contributions to the art of comics and illustration. The amount of talent circulating around the Boston Comics Roundtable and Trees and Hills is awe-inspiring. We also have the Xeric Foundation and the Center for Cartoon Studies here. The author of the whole Diary of a Wimpy Kid enterprise lives in lovely little Plainville, MA. We have the Eric Carle Museum. The whole Fort Thunder/Hive Archive/Dirt Palace phenomenon that came out of Providence has made an indelible mark on the local art history. Much of this work comes in at student-friendly price points and wins attention far outside the usual circles of art criticism. Curators and critics should recognize this as an important property of the region's art making, and cover, collect, and curate it accordingly.

Six: As far as Google is concerned the only young collectors' group in Boston is sponsored by the Copley Society. This is a big, unrealized opportunity for the museums and/or private parties to cultivate new collectors.

Seven: Learn basic economics, for crying out loud. Bostonians, and everyone else, will buy art if they see something they like and can afford. To think otherwise is to succumb to anecdote. Don't idly wish for philanthropy and state intervention - make something great and get it out there.

Comment

1.

Jack

March 25, 2010, 1:17 PM

I would add that at least some artists need to choose between making art that will sell and art calculated to attract the notice and blessing of the establishment (which may or may not happen, no matter how many of the supposedly required boxes are checked off). I'm certainly not talking about anybody becoming a commercial hack or a glorified prostitute, but some artists aren't making what they're best suited to make, even though it would be more likely to sell than what they are making to be considered serious players by the system.

2.

opie

March 25, 2010, 1:54 PM

You have a point Jack. I just talked to a young artist the other day who has a terrific natural talent for abstract paintings and he seems literally afraid to tell any of his pomo friends that he even does it.

Talent isn't everything. You need some balls to drive it

3.

David

March 25, 2010, 3:16 PM

It's a daily negotiation, especially if you need dough. I salute you for trying with Boston Franklin. When I was there 20 some years ago, it seemed there was room for 3 local artists to have a career. That's a meaningless impression, but it's mine. I do like the idea of making a small city a place to incubate and support artists. There was talk in '75 or so that Providence would become a holy city, there were so many Buddhists around. We are an hour south in New Bedford now and I've shown paintings and furniture in a dozen venues in 2 years. No sales particularly, but that hasn't been my focus, and I feel like I'm gaining a local rep among my peers. And I have a quiet little antique restoration business as a day job. The local support for art is very important. What I want more than anything really is comrades who get what I'm doing and who can spur me on and we seem to have that here. We're about to sign a letter of agreement on a new loft space to purchase. You just pick your ground and make a stand.

4.

Chris Rywalt

March 25, 2010, 3:17 PM

I started reading a paper on possible alternative systems for getting payment to musicians for downloaded music, among other things. One of the economic concepts the author brings up is efficiency and opportunity costs. I'm no expert so I'm not going to go into these exact concepts, but in the paper the author has them wrapped around the idea that creators might not create, or might create differently, when their behavior is affected by the market. An obvious example would be, imagine a world with no copyright, where creators are never paid for their work. Clearly some number of works of art would never get made because their creators wouldn't or couldn't make the work. Or we could imagine a world where creators are paid perfectly for their efforts, which would invite the maximum number of people to create works the public wants.

Of course there's no such thing as perfection here. What do people want? How much is optimal? What's best for society? And so on. Lots of details and questions.

Art is clearly not just a matter of talent but it's also not just talent plus balls. Art requires an environment, and the environment is going, to some degree, to encourage some things and discourage others. This will most likely mean a loss of some kind -- an inefficiency -- where some hypothetical art, which society wants or would better off with, won't get made. Whatever choices we all make, as a collective or individually, we're going to lose something.

The idea is to try and lose as little as possible, to be as efficient as possible.

5.

Chris Rywalt

March 25, 2010, 3:19 PM

There's an antique furniture restorer in my studio building. I like to peek in his door as I go by and see what he's working on. Sometimes he leaves furniture in the hall. Sometimes he throws things out I almost want to take home. (Right now there's a big wardrobe in pieces with a sign on it saying the trashmen won't take it, resident please remove.)

I love old furniture.

6.

David

March 25, 2010, 5:45 PM

Chris, I often collect that sort of trash for parts. I have a big collection. I bought the contents of an old Boston restoration shop a number of years ago and now I have a real wood library.

shop view

7.

John

March 25, 2010, 7:24 PM

Nice shop, David. Nice rent, too.

8.

David

March 25, 2010, 9:38 PM

I've been lucky to find great spaces over the years. The price for commercial mill space hasn't changed much over the 24 years I've been here.

9.

Chris Rywalt

March 26, 2010, 8:03 AM

That space looks HUGE. The guy in my building has less than half that, probably.

10.

MC

March 26, 2010, 8:16 AM

I envy the light you've got there, David. I need to put some skylights in when I get my studio roof replaced.

11.

Chris Rywalt

March 26, 2010, 8:56 AM

I was so happy when we moved into a studio with windows. I thought I'd be thrilled. But now I find too much glare.

I think I'm meant to live in a cave.

12.

David

March 26, 2010, 9:13 AM

I say it's like the studios of Paris - until you go out for lunch. Then you might think you were in Portugal. I often have 5 or 6 furniture jobs going at once with 1 or 2 helpers, and maybe a dozen or more jobs pending, so I can often fill it up. 3,500 sq. ft. It's why I live here - for the mills and the light. I was looking for someone to share it with last year when things got really slow, but then things picked up again so on most days, it's just me and the shellac, and the occasional helper or two if they can wake up. Good steady work.

13.

Jack

March 26, 2010, 9:17 AM

Part of the problem with people not buying art is, of course, confusion. There's simply way too much stuff out there claiming to be serious fine art. Another part of the problem is that what is officially or institutionally promoted as the best or "important" work is all too frequently nothing of the sort, and this creates more confusion, not to mention apprehension and/or insecurity. A lot of people still believe the official "experts" and high-profile "connoisseurs" must know what's what, crock though that is, and when they can't swallow what's officially promoted, they're likely to forego the whole art thing and stick to something they can handle more comfortably.

14.

Jack

March 26, 2010, 9:24 AM

In other words, people need to learn to trust themselves more and realize that art is a personal matter between them and work--everybody else can pretty much go to hell if they get in the way.

15.

Chris Rywalt

March 26, 2010, 9:29 AM

Art's intimidating. Even under the best possible conditions it's intimidating. Buying art asks someone to purchase and display something which is evidence of their judgment. It's right there for everyone to see. There's no place to hide!

All of the experts, essays, and catalogs exist as cover, as a defense against someone saying, "Wow, your taste in art sucks!" You can pull out the expert opinions on how this is important work, or how it will go up in value. You can point to the densely-rendered opinions of educated writers which explain how and why this is a good and worthwhile piece of art.

It's tough to put yourself out there and say, "I bought this because I like it."

16.

opie

March 26, 2010, 10:10 AM

You are not talking about art, Chris. You are talking about the art business.

17.

JL

March 26, 2010, 11:10 AM

Then you might think you were in Portugal.

Oh man, this is not something I need to be thinking before lunch. I haven't had any Portuguese food in a while. I used to go to a couple of places in East Providence from time to time, but it's been years. What's good in New Bedford or Fall River these days? I need to get down there. I spent some time working on projects for the New Bedford National Historic Park and the Whaling Museum a number of years ago but haven't been back enough since.

18.

Chris Rywalt

March 26, 2010, 11:34 AM

Not the making of art, no, Opie, but the buying of it. Although the making of it has its own similar problems. You have to make something and put it out there knowing you could be made fun of for it.

19.

MC

March 26, 2010, 12:09 PM

NYT's latest newsflash: painting is not dead.

"FEW modern myths about art have been as persistent or as annoying as the misconceptions of Roberta Smith..."

20.

Chris Rywalt

March 26, 2010, 12:15 PM

Holy cow did Roberta pick some of the worst painting of all time for her slideshow. Maybe all her "intense personal necessity" and pro-painting writing lately is actually intended as reverse psychology. Because I can't think of anything that would drive a young artist into video and conceptual art faster than the painters Roberta's chosen for that article.

21.

John

March 26, 2010, 1:05 PM

The paintings in the slide show ARE dead.

22.

Jack

March 26, 2010, 1:25 PM

That slide show is like a bad practical joke. Maybe Smith is actually channeling Duchamp. But really, the whole "painting is dead" tripe was never more than trendy masturbatory activity for people desperate to appear "cutting edge" and way ahead of the curve (like this clown who's pushing "comtemporary practice" as the new buzz phrase). I mean, can't these people just go off to some compound or other with their own kind and get the hell out of my face? As far as I'm concerned, they mean nothing and are nothing, certainly nothing of substance, so why should I have to be importuned with any knowledge of their useless existence?

23.

John

March 26, 2010, 1:32 PM

Actually, John, you mean lifeless. Dead implies they were once living.

24.

that guy

March 26, 2010, 1:52 PM

Thanks Chris, those heebie-jeebie inducing high school art exhibits come immediately to mind. A few artist specific comments:

Michael Williams: you should just paint large versions of those floors and screw the pooch.

Leidy Churchman: look up Joan Brown.

Jakub Julian Ziolkowski: Please stop painting.

Dhruvi Acharya: Can you draw 50 of those a day? Disney wants to know, and like you, does not care about surface quality.

Negar Ahkami: see comment for Jakub.

Henry Taylor: Keep at it... I guess.

Frederick Hayes: See comment for Henry.

Christoph Ruckhäberle: Your composition is about as lively as a morgue. Your sense of color could be worse. See Ahkami's color sense which fluctuates between the pathological and the horrific.

Nina Chanel Abney: More drugs, less painting.

Alexi Worth: You have succeeded in producing a painting that I am truly bored with. That usually means critically acclaimed in most art circles. Not here unfortunately.

Ellen Altfest: Lucian Fraud + Jenny Saville is not a good look for you. "The butt" although a fascinating topic in and of itself doesn't lend itself all that well as a subject to be painted apparently. Thanks for pointing that out. I would say that you are the most technically proficient of this rag tag group of grifters. Blue ribbon.

Raja Ram Sharma: The male gaze humbly requests more tatas.

25.

David

March 26, 2010, 1:54 PM

JL, Sagres on Columbia St. in Fall River. On Friday night it's live fado music. Franklin has a standing invitation. We just have to find a time. Bom dia. Como vai voce?

26.

David

March 26, 2010, 2:05 PM

Oh man those paintings are sad. You know, it really shouldn't be so hard to do good paintings and sell them for reasonable prices in Boston. Of all places, it's a conservative city. People (I mean as a species) respond naturally to skill, to beauty. Yes some folks with money want to be part of "what's happening". But maybe you could fake them out and get them with "damn nice paintings for a reasonable price". With a little education, a little buzz. All the things mentioned by Petrovich.

27.

Jack

March 26, 2010, 2:13 PM

#23 was written by Jack, not John, not that it matters.

28.

John

March 26, 2010, 2:18 PM

Well Jack, (#23 and 27), maybe we should just call them "ruined art supplies".

29.

Chris Rywalt

March 26, 2010, 2:38 PM

"The male gaze humbly requests more tatas."

Laugh out loud I did. I want to remember this for future conversations.

30.

Chris Rywalt

March 26, 2010, 2:43 PM

Back before I really started going to galleries, a long time ago, my wife and I visited Boston and saw a gallery on that street that's closed to vehicular traffic, the one with all the shops and stuff. Very groovy. The artist had a Greek last name, Michael Somethingopoulos. I had a brochure from him in my desk for years. I liked his stuff then but I'm pretty sure I'd look at him now the way I look at Ana Tzarev -- bright, pretty, not exceptionally good.

But he seemed commercial. I imagine he sold okay.

31.

Chris Rywalt

March 26, 2010, 3:06 PM

Sagres is only three hours away by car. But if I want Portuguese food I can just go to Newark. I understand there's a place where you can order an entire pig.

32.

eageageag

March 26, 2010, 4:41 PM

Please tell me that that slide show was a joke. Ugh!

33.

Franklin

March 26, 2010, 4:55 PM

The only one that comes close to setting up as a picture is the Ruckhäberle. Oy gevalt.

34.

opie

March 26, 2010, 5:07 PM

That slide show is fascinating. Yes, the paintings are truly bad, bad enough to be a show at the "Museum of Bad Art", technically bad, conceptually bad, embarrassingly bad.

What's interesting is that they are - except for the apples, which seems decently painted - all very similar, similar enough to be the work of one artist over time. This is not the kind of bad tchotchke art we see in the auctions or bad grad school art or bad 30-year-old-Whitney-Annual wannabe-art. It looks like something out of a Transylvanian kindergarden. It is truly remarkable.

35.

Chris Rywalt

March 26, 2010, 5:14 PM

"Transylvanian kindergarten" -- almost as good as the requesting male gaze!

As my old history teacher Dr. Stefanacci used to say, "And they all said 'Oy gevalt' -- and they weren't even Jewish."

36.

opie

March 26, 2010, 6:11 PM

That's because Yiddish is such a great source for expletives denoting human frustration and the things that cause it.

ttp://thomer.com/yiddish/

37.

opie

March 26, 2010, 6:12 PM

http://thomer.com/yiddish/

38.

Jack

March 26, 2010, 6:29 PM

OK, so let's try psychoanalysis (this choice of paintings clearly calls for it, at any rate). Why would someone like Roberta Smith publicly expose herself this way? Is she simply a clueless "critic" writing for a similarly clueless audience, in which case she's safe, or is she rather a cynic/opportunist who doesn't really care what work she promotes, as long as it's sufficiently correct and doesn't seriously damage her image or standing in official circles?

And it's not just these paintings. It's not just that her eye is at best undistinguished. Her writing as such is pedestrian (Robert Hughes, for instance, is or was clearly better at that), and her scholarship or grasp of art history feels shallow and pasted on, like wallpaper, as opposed to being an integral part of the structure. Is that a function of what the NYT wants now, what it thinks will go over best with its target audience? Is she being deliberately junior league, because prevailing standards cannot handle anything more rigorous?

Oy gevalt, indeed.

39.

George

March 26, 2010, 8:23 PM

"Painting may be in a similar place right now, fomented mostly, but not always, by young painters who have emerged in the last decade. They feel freer to paint what they want than at any time since the 1930s, or maybe even the 1890s, when post-Impressionism was at its height.

In the late 19th century painting was being radically changed by a series of artistic explosions — the newly abstracted figuration of post-Impressionists from van Gogh to Ensor; the extremes of color favored by the Fauves, like the young Matisse, and German Expressionists, like Kirchner; the shattering of representational form by Cubism and Futurism; and finally the flowering of abstraction itself in the work of Malevich and Mondrian.

By the 1970s, thanks largely to formalist critics like Clement Greenberg and Donald Judd, painting had been flattened and emptied of figures, subject matter and illusionistic space. ..."

Indeed. I told you so.

What are you going to do about it?

40.

dude

March 26, 2010, 8:59 PM

'By the 1970s, thanks largely to formalist critics like Clement Greenberg and Donald Judd, painting had been flattened and emptied of figures, subject matter and illusionistic space.'

Indeed?! Every assertion in that statement is unsupported farcical bullsh*t. All those artists were led to water by Greenberg and Judd??!! LOL. Don't believe the hype, George.

I was just waiting for Roberta to come up with an 'A-list' to support her gospel, one that would expose this eyeless trendy rhetoric for what it is. Same old, same old. Didn't we see all this work in the eighties? Wasn't it just as bad then too? Is this the kind of work that's gonna overhaul the scene, George?

What am I gonna do about it? Well I reckon I'll call bullshit on this tripe, in the most curmudgeonly fashion possible.

41.

Jack

March 26, 2010, 9:18 PM

Now wait a minute. How could Smith possibly leave out Neo Rauch? Are his 15 minutes over already or what? I suppose I should read more art mags (at the bookstore magazine rack, of course) to keep up with these things. But maybe the Leipzig business has run its course. Maybe you have to be Middle Eastern and female now. I suppose I'll never get the hang of being "in." It's probably congenital.

42.

George

March 26, 2010, 9:58 PM

I realize it's rough when Greenberg has to share the blame with someone else even if it is misattributed.

However, you miss the point "painting had been flattened and emptied of figures, subject matter and illusionistic space."

Roberta gets this right, what don't you understand?

They feel freer to paint what they want than at any time since the 1930s...

I'm not sure about the 1930's as a benchmark, but the rest I get. The younger painters (et al) are not hung up defending fifty year old ideas, they are jamming with history any way they see fit. If you don't like what they're doing, then do something better. They are laying down the gauntlet, pick it up if you have the balls.

FWIW, Christoph Ruckhäberle is a very very good painter.

43.

Chris Rywalt

March 26, 2010, 10:07 PM

Not too long ago I wrote unfavorably about someone's art collection which they posted online. A little over a week ago I posted my own picks for a gallery, if I were to own one. A couple of people left comments saying that I have terrible taste. And now I made fun of Roberta's choices.

So altogether I feel I have to say a few things here. First, I committed a cardinal sin both times when I judged art I hadn't seen in person. One shouldn't judge art based on reproductions. Those painters Roberta listed, they look pretty bad, but Rousseau, who is one of my favorite painters, would probably look about as bad.

Second, I do want to reiterate what I said above about art's being intimidating. This is what's intimidating about it: You put yourself out there when you express your taste. As soon as you say "This work of art is good" you open yourself up to painful criticism and there's simply no defense against it at all. What can you say when someone says you have terrible taste except "No I don't!" Jack likes to say you shouldn't care, but of course it's really, really hard not to care.

44.

dude

March 26, 2010, 10:35 PM

The charges against Judd are just as trumped up as those against Greenberg. These kinds of stupid inflammatory remarks are ALWAYS stapled to an agenda and they are ALWAYS obscenely naive in their shallowness. Peel it back one layer and you've got a poser critic rehashing ignorant but highly ubiquitous one-liners in order to add content where there usually is none. Talking about the history and practice of painting in terms such as these is shamelessly immature and only confirms that looking at this stuff, dealing with paintings on their own terms, will always prove too tedious a task for most. If one has half an eye for painting, you know full well how asinine it is too talk about things this way. You talk balls, George. I'd like to read one line from Smith that tells me she really connects these swaths of art history in her own experience. It's just so fucking crass. Balls on bullshit, I say.

The terms deployed by Smith in her attempt to describe actual painting - "painting had been flattened and emptied of figures, subject matter and illusionistic space" - are specious and way too vague to support anything but a lazy, propaganda ridden take on painting and its history.

I'm glad there's at least one painter there you like George. I had the exact same reaction as opie. These paintings are being made by what feels like everyone, and not just the hot shits in NYC, by the way. I am truly amazed at how similar it all looks and feels. That silly side of me wants to believe there's something to your New Spatial Orderism, George. But alas, I can see where it's headed already, and it ain't lookin' good, man.

45.

John

March 26, 2010, 10:53 PM

Hey George, I don't sense any lack here of feeling free to paint.

46.

opie

March 26, 2010, 10:59 PM

George, you know as well as I do that Greenberg was reporting rather than proscribing. You are always railing about 50-year-old ideas, and the idea that Gberg was proscribing is 50 years old. Get with it.

As for those artists, they certainly are free to "paint what they want", but they can't paint. If they are"jamming with history" I don't want to think where they are jamming it.

47.

John

March 26, 2010, 11:01 PM

"...flattened and emptied of figures, subject matter and illusionistic space" is no worse or better than "3-dimensional, full of figures, subject matter, and illusions" because both phrases are descriptions.

It either description is leveraged as a criterion, then it falls apart.

48.

Jack

March 26, 2010, 11:10 PM

Oh, dear. Here we go again, and it's not just OP this time. I suppose Jell-O must be more compelling somehow than I have thus far been able to ascertain.

49.

Chris Rywalt

March 26, 2010, 11:11 PM

Ruckhäberle looks like one of the better Feeblists. Damning with praise as faint as an 8H pencil line on chromium steel plate.

50.

George

March 26, 2010, 11:24 PM

Geez dude, who cares about the Greenberg details at this point? Regardless of who is responsible, I agree with the notion that "painting had been flattened and emptied of figures, subject matter and illusionistic space."

It describes a lot the really boring, academic, minimalist derived efforts of painters who are interested in playing it safe in a fifty year old sandbox. I have to admit they are all in safe company because it appears that most painters are playing the same safe little game, making nice, permuting the same old tropes of yesteryear.

Don't ascribe 'New Spatial Orderism' to me, that was never my point. What is, or should be, is realizing that Modernism ran off the tracks into a wall by narrowing down painting towards zero.

'Painting is a language' [Picasso] and the entire history of painting is there to be used and explored. This is the idea that lies behind They feel freer to paint what they want. I see this all as rather liberating, not that I should paint a certain way.

I seriously doubt that you can see where this is headed.

BTW, the examples Roberta gave were from all over the US and Europe. Also, I shared my opinion about Christoph Ruckhäberle's paintings because I've actually seen a number of them.

51.

George

March 26, 2010, 11:27 PM

BTW, I really thought that Jack would relate to Ellen Altfest's hairy ass painting, seems like it fits, no?.

52.

George

March 26, 2010, 11:31 PM

I could care less about Greenberg.

It's the 21st century, get with it folks.

53.

George

March 26, 2010, 11:40 PM

Well it's clear nobody agrees with Roberta's list of painters. (Why am I not surprised? :)

SO, let's see if opie and the rest of you can put up a few links to painters you do think are making innovative work. No one over 50.

I dare you.

54.

Chris Rywalt

March 26, 2010, 11:48 PM

Not for nothing, George, but it doesn't matter one bit how young painters feel about their painting. What matters is how good it is. The universe doesn't give a single dried-up old man turd how an artist feels. If their paintings are good, they're good. If not, not. Van Gogh felt badly enough about his art and his life he put a bullet in his chest. Rothko slashed himself to death with a kitchen knife. Can you even imagine how bad you have to feel before that seems like a good idea?

Fuck how the young painters of today feel. Let me see some good goddamn painting!

55.

Chris Rywalt

March 26, 2010, 11:52 PM

I'll answer first, George: Who cares about innovation? I already posted two painters under fifty making art I like on my blog, and I've got more in the pipeline. Is their art innovative? My equations don't even contain a term for that.

56.

David

March 27, 2010, 3:37 AM

It's nice to read a discussion of painting. As Peter Plagens just said in AiA, "artists are looking a little overwhelmed these days". Plagens brings his essay about a trip to Chelsea back round to the necessity to look and react to real work in space, and came back with some genuine and well written impressions. There's a total sameness to all but the 2 realists in Smith's sample, as Opie and dude observed. I can see some brilliant wag calling it New Imagery or something, but Franklin's Feeblism will do.

that guy, I didn't know you could say "please stop painting" in a critique. Good to know. I just saw some brilliant paintings by someone I didn't know - David Loeffler Smith. He's in the show I'm currently in. He's in his 80's I was told. He was a very distinguished professor of painting at the Swain School, New Bedford, Ma. I believe he started the program in the 60's. He's showing a group of 9" x 12" oils on paper that I couldn't stop looking at. I saw one in reproduction and thought it was at least 30" x 40". They are committed abstract paintings but here and there you find a partial figure or a rushing mountain stream. Unfortunately I haven't yet found anything of his online.


Looking for something online about Smith, I found this interesting article on Paul Resika and a circle of painters, friends and teachers that sounds like a very appealing milieu. And I like this quote:"Resika taught, as Hofmann taught, that working from life, from nature, is the fundamental relationship for the painter; without it, there is poverty of form; everything dries up."

57.

Franklin

March 27, 2010, 7:07 AM

I can't take credit for Feeblism. Mark Staff Brandl coined "Feeble Painting" and "Feeblism" sprung up around it in discussion. I was calling this stuff Wan Figuration.

I wish Ruckhäberle was still painting those figure-filled interiors. At some point he tried pumping up his color and it just refuses to work for him. Still, he has an idea about how to compose, which makes him unique on Smith's list.

I've lamented before that most people know Greenberg's legacy only in the form of caricature. Public misunderstandings of Greenberg provide us with markers regarding whether a piece of writing merits any attention. Specifically, ascribing him with directorial or dictatorial powers ensconces the writer safely within establishment thinking, and forewarns us that said writer is about to provide us with ostensible refutations to formalist or modernist concerns, rendered as cartoons. You can all but set your watch to it.

58.

Franklin

March 27, 2010, 7:24 AM

At this point in history, innovation is the handmaiden of mannerism.

59.

Jack

March 27, 2010, 7:26 AM

George, #51 is at least lame enough to qualify as Feeblist. Stick to pompous, would-be with-it pronouncements--they suit you far better than any attempt at wit. And by the way, just because somebody, anybody, "throws down a gauntlet," doesn't oblige anybody else to run and pick it up. It depends entirely on the actual gauntlet, not to mention the thrower. Sheesh.

60.

opie

March 27, 2010, 8:17 AM

Franklin #57: to the point. Saves me answering George, who really seems to have a bug up his butt today.

George can't you see that this time obsession of yours is beside the point? All that matters is how good it is, as Chris says.

61.

David

March 27, 2010, 9:12 AM

Thanks for the correction F. Now I recall. Wan painting was yours and feeble painting Mark's. Both are good.

62.

John

March 27, 2010, 9:35 AM

At this point in history, innovation is the handmaiden of mannerism.

This is one of those one-liners that you can take to the bank. It is all you need to know about innovation if you want to make superior art. Everything else is for the nit-pickers. Thanks, Franklin.

63.

MC

March 27, 2010, 9:40 AM

To paraphrase Greenberg...
George, like Roberta Smith, "seems to lack a sense of perspective, and it is this that makes them both inveterate futurists, votaries of false dawns, sufferers from the millennial complex..."

64.

Chris Rywalt

March 27, 2010, 9:53 AM

He follows that up: "...and to that extent comedians like Mr. Rosenberg, who back in 1952 greeted the beginning of the end of painting as an art."

We've finally come full circle! The comedians started by predicting the end of painting and now they've come around to declaiming its resurrection! And just in time for Easter, too.

65.

opie

March 27, 2010, 11:59 AM

As I have said here before, the first public panel discussion I appeared on was "Is Painting Dead" at NYU. That was in 1966.

Painting has survived, and of course I have always been encouraged by this.

However, the paintings in the Roberta slide show make be wonder. After all, it is quite possible for painting to die, and for the rotting corpse to just lie there...

66.

Chris Rywalt

March 27, 2010, 3:38 PM

I don't think it's possible for painting to die but it's certainly possible for painters to die, the way comedians die on stage. And I think these painters have definitely died out there. That slideshow looks a lot like a massive die-off.

67.

Jack

March 27, 2010, 4:59 PM

Smith's list implies she either has lousy taste or she wants to protect herself by sticking to reasonably safe, correct painters in the context of the official art establishment. In any case, based on this showing, she is quite useless, certainly to me, and her employers evidently don't know any better or don't care. If this is the kind of art writing one can expect from the NYT, no wonder art coverage from presumably lesser sources is painfully inadequate, if not woefully incompetent.

68.

piri

March 27, 2010, 9:44 PM

I just saw two shows that I really liked -- Friedel Dzubas at Jacobson Howard & Milton Avery at Knoedler's. Both were of early work, and as a result somewhat uneven but with many rewards. Both artists are not only old, they're dead, but that doesn't make the painting any less good.

69.

jack

March 27, 2010, 9:49 PM

Re #58, one could add that innovation is now a pretext for mannerism with lousy manners.

70.

Franklin

March 27, 2010, 9:58 PM

I'm not sure why comments weren't appearing for a few hours this evening but the problem seems to have solved itself.

71.

Chris Rywalt

March 27, 2010, 10:03 PM

Piri, did you make it to Kyle Staver? What did you think?

(Everyone else: I ask because she recommended it in the thread on #class; Franklin saw it before #class and liked it; I saw it before #class and thought it was pretty bad; and Piri said she was going after she left #class.)

72.

Chris Rywalt

March 27, 2010, 10:08 PM

Staver lists, on her site, an article by Roberta Smith. Title: "A Profusion of Painting, Very Much Alive". Dateline: 2002. Repeat yourself much?

"The idea that painting is dead is more passé than ever, judging from the medium's dominance in New York City's commercial galleries this weekend. Perhaps it is taking its revenge on museums that have been mostly otherwise engaged this season."

Maybe Roberta's not a votary of a false dawn so much as a broken clock telling time correctly twice a day.

73.

Chris Rywalt

March 27, 2010, 10:17 PM

Her taste in painting has not improved in eight years.

74.

Franklin

March 27, 2010, 10:18 PM

Incidentally, we just saw Lily Tomlin perform at the Wilbur Theater. She was hilarious. She updated the whole Ernestine ("one ringy dingy") shtick by making the character an operator in a health insurance claims department. "Blindness is a pre-existing condition. You should have read the fine print." "You got shot in a subway? Get Quizno's next time."

75.

piri

March 27, 2010, 11:19 PM

Chris, I did see Kyle Staver, thought the paintings were kind of fun but with an awful lot of echoes of earlier, better painters -- female body types out of 30s Picasso, male body types out of Matisse ca. 1908, mood reminiscent of Bonnard, gray-brown color schemes out of late, inferior Braque. Circus themes anticipated by a variety of artists. The birds were the freshest part. Pleasant, I'd say, but Avery is so much better. His color schemes are similar but somehow richer -- I guess maybe because he used such a lot of blue. And his compositions have so much more dignity, even when all that he's painting is industrial landscapes, barges, bridges, ec.

76.

piri

March 27, 2010, 11:44 PM

By the way, I also saw Dan Rozin at Bitforms. Also thought it kind of fun, a good example of kinetic art, but, like most kinetic art, kind of gimmicky. It's the kind of thing I thought was terrific when I was younger -- in fact, there was still a lot of kinetic art in the galleries when I started writing the Art page for Time in 1967. It had come along after pop (which erupted ca. 1961-62) and op (which became the latest nouvelle vague around 1964). My predecessor on Time did a big article on kinetic art in 1965 (Nam June Paik & Pol Bury & so forth) but then minimal began entering the galleries & got big play with the Primary Structures show at the Jewish Museum in 1966 & after than kinetic kind of faded away.

77.

Chris Rywalt

March 28, 2010, 12:48 AM

I thought Staver's work was ungainly, cloddish, and muddy. Just plain ugly. More Feeblism. I'm very surprised that you and Franklin didn't react unfavorably to it. Her work reminded me strongly of Judith Linhares, only a lot less colorful. Or Dana Schutz, ditto. Really terrible stuff. Franklin said something about how if I knew more about Bay Area Figuration I might like them better, but I doubt it.

Moving on to Dan Rozin, what I like about his work is it's not simply kinetic, it's responding to the viewer. Figuring out how it's responding and then playing with it is part of the fun. (One of the pieces there was set to move on its own and was therefore a lot less interesting to me.) I find it poetic, even magical. And simply beautiful in a tactile way. I love the way the pieces shift into standby mode if no one is interacting with them, the pattern of the movements as the piece adjusts itself.

78.

opie

March 28, 2010, 12:50 AM

But Jack (#67), this is not a "safe" list. It is a weird list. It is not what I would expect from a Times critic picking up & coming young artists. It's way off base, out of synch, like a grade school class with tempera & butcher paper trying to paint like a neoexpressionist in Bulgaria in 1985. (I persist with the Balkan references because many of the pictures have a strange similarity to the designs on middle European decorated Easter eggs)

Or is this the latest thing? I am always dumfounded by the art world

BTW we do the best we can with NETFLIX but we just saw a movie which is an instant candidate for my list of 10 worst of all time: "The Looking Glass War". Made in 1969. Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Richardson, Based on a Le Carre book. Should have been good. Oh, well.

If Roberta was a film critic she might have liked it.

79.

Chris Rywalt

March 28, 2010, 1:01 AM

I recently discovered le Carré. He's fantastic. I really liked both The Tailor of Panama and The Constant Gardener. I plan on reading more the next time I'm in a non-fiction phase.

I imagine the British TV version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy must be good. It's got Alec Guinness in it. The Tailor of Panama movie was directed by John Boorman. How can that be bad? And The Constant Gardener got great reviews and won an Oscar for Rachel Weisz.

80.

opie

March 28, 2010, 1:13 AM

Tinker Tailor is odd and obscure and very drawn out but we enjoyed it a lot. Any movie based on le Carre ought to be good.

This one was badly directed in ways too numerous and too laughable to mention. We kept saying "What???"

My trusty TV movie guide said to gaze upon the bone structure of the stars, because there is nothing else going on. I should have read that before we rented it.

81.

David

March 28, 2010, 8:08 AM

I remember watching Tinker, Tailor...on TV. It was wonderful. Funny thing, when WGBH Boston broadcast it around 82 or so, the station had technical problems and went off the air just at the denouement, when we learn who the double agent is. We had to call the station - they apologized and told us who it was. Alec Guiness was wonderful. There were two other British made mysteries on years ago that I loved and never saw repeated. One was Game, Set, Match with Ian Holm, based on a trilogy by Len Deighton, who wrote the Ipcress File. The other was Die Kinder, about domestic terrorists in England and a woman (Miranda Richardson) looking for her children, with a haunting Shubert theme for the soundtrack.

82.

Jack

March 28, 2010, 9:17 AM

OP, by "reasonably safe" I meant safe enough (or weird enough, if you will) to avoid looking suspect to the establishment. Weird is fine; "formalist" is not. Needless to say, the stuff can be perfectly ghastly dreck and it can still fly; quality (or whatever you wish to call that) is obviously not the issue.

83.

Jack

March 28, 2010, 9:36 AM

It's also possible that Smith wants to stand out from the crowd by appearing somewhat different or not quite so obvious, which could explain the "weird" choices. The idea is to look like the critic is discovering or bringing forth what others have failed to appreciate or recognize. I still find all her choices safe, relatively speaking, as indeed they must be for practical reasons.

84.

Bruce M. Mackh

March 28, 2010, 10:17 AM

I like your blog!


Best, Bruce M. Mackh

85.

David

March 28, 2010, 11:12 AM

Just re-read Roberta's Times article in hard copy. The key to the choice of paintings is right there in the last sentence: "a sampling of the post-abstract, representational painters who have emerged since 2000." No particular judgment offered, not her choice of favorites, just: this is a sample of what's been out there.

86.

dude

March 28, 2010, 12:10 PM

"post-abstract, representational painters"...WTF can this possibly mean?

This is so ridiculous. I'm glad Chris dug up an older review which makes another point I didn't care to make in my rant, namely that this list could have been compiled anytime in the last 30 years. This ousider-chic stuff has been going on everywhere since the 80's and finally the ennui is forcing opinion that says this stuff matters. So predictable. Sheer journalistic nonsense.

The problem with George's request for a list under 50 is that there really aren't many quality young painters out there to counter a feeble-list such as this. Sad but true.

87.

Jack

March 28, 2010, 12:18 PM

That may be, David, but her job happens to be to make judgments, pick what she thinks is best and bring it forward. She's not supposed to be a random sampler, which could be done by just about anybody, or even by the right sort of software program fed with suitable data. If this is the best she can do, or the most she's willing to stick her neck out, it's simply not good enough.

88.

opie

March 28, 2010, 12:33 PM

David, when you make choices, judgment is involved. Who knows what she was thinking. But it is a safe bet she was not thinking "I'm going to make myself look ridiculous". No, these are choices and they are, in her opinion, positive choices.

Dude the "outsider" thing has been around for a hundred years. Only now it is an overwhelming infestation, like termites in an old house.

The first thing a kid in a High School art course thinks of is: Ooh, lets do something different! And "different" always provides the delicious obligation to do away with craft (and usually involves some kind of monstrous organism, often related to video games).

The fundamental characteristic of most if those Roberta pix is simple painting incompetence. Even the basketball player, which at least attempts to be a realistic representation of something, is painfully maladroit.

89.

David

March 28, 2010, 1:25 PM

Oh yes, I agree with you both. Choice is judgement. I was really just trying to figure out again why she was putting this work forward as a resurgence of painting. I suppose it conforms with some personal idea of what's new and different. Nevermind. It's not worth that much more thought.

90.

dude

March 28, 2010, 2:00 PM

What is worth some thought is the fact that this abject styling is the only thing being emulated and sifted through over and over. I cringe when I hear talk of artists being finally freed up to plunder art history for their own devices. Isn't this exactly what has been going on with real artists all along? Give me a break. If painters are now finally looking back that far at real honest picturemaking, supposedly at least, you'd think they'd come up with better results. Could it be, just maybe, that there is an overlooked and undervalued gamut of activity that already looked long and hard at good stuff and made more good stuff out of that experience? The problem of course is that the achievements are completely off the radar or otherwise misinterpreted.Roberta's pronouncements are just as dodgy as that goofy bit George dropped the other day about Olitski running into Bram Bogart, and not having anywhere to go. Puhleeze.

91.

piri

March 28, 2010, 2:06 PM

Chris, I don't want to get in a shouting match with you over Staver & Rozin. Neither of them is worth it. I'm sorry you couldn't see what there was to see in Staver, though admittedly it wasn't a lot. As to Rozin being interactive, that doesn't overwhelm me by its originality. Also interactive were the mirrors that made you look tall & thin or short & fat in the fun houses of old Coney Island. They too changed every time you moved, but it only meant they qualified as entertainment rather than fine art. The Rozin was well displayed with nice theatrical lighting, I'll give you that


As for Roberta's "outsiders," what's now celebrated as "outsider art" used to be known as "primitive" and has been popular with people who wanted to appear avant-garde but couldn't abide abstraction since the 1930s (Henry Luce was among the many who collected it then). Picasso & the Blaue Reiter gave such people permission when they collected Rousseau & German folk art & the art of the insane, but for me there's limited visual appeal to any but the best of it. I do still include Rousseau among the best, but none of the people in Roberta's piece come anywhere near him & anyway the whole idea is pretty stale at this late date.

92.

opie

March 28, 2010, 2:18 PM

I didn't see that comment about Olitski & Bogart, Dude. That's just silly.

I think George knows better. He was probably just rying to stir things up.

93.

Chris Rywalt

March 28, 2010, 2:37 PM

Painters under the age of fifty making good work:

Inka Essenhigh
Tracy Helgeson
J.T. Kirkland
Julian Jackson
Andy Harper
April Gornik (may be over fifty)
James Lecce
Francine Tint (may be over fifty)
James Wolanin
Audrey Kawasaki (okay, no one here will like her work, and I don't love it, but there's something about it that works for me)
Steven LaRose
Christopher Reiger
Eric White
Reuben Negron
Julie Evans (may be over fifty)
Ashley Hope
Don Voisine
Joanne Mattera (may be over fifty)
Steven Alexander

And this is just going back chronologically on my blog for the last year. (You'll note I'm not sure about the exact age of some of the women because, whatever gains in equality we might have made, it's still impolite to ask a woman how old she is.)

Most of these painters aren't in danger of toppling Pollock or Van Gogh from their spots as my favorite, and they're not going to be stealing museum wall space from them any time soon, either. But they're all doing good, solid work. Steve LaRose, Tracy, J.T., Julie -- I think they have a shot at being that good.

And these are just painters under fifty, still working, that I've seen in the past year. I've got nineteen and I left out anyone I was slightly iffy about.

A few of them are doing what I'd consider innovative work, although that doesn't matter in my judgment. J.T., Julie, Audrey, James Lecce, they're pretty different, in different ways. J.T.'s really strange.

Okay, George, I took your dare. Now what?

94.

Chris Rywalt

March 28, 2010, 2:54 PM

No shouting necessary, Piri. I was just giving my side. I'll go into more detail when I write them up for my site.

Interactivity as such doesn't usually excite me, but I thought the Rozins involved a nice connection between being pretty, being ingenious, and being interactive. Part of what I liked may just be the gadgetry of it all because I really like gadgets.

Rousseau is an odd case. Really, when you step back and look at his work, he should be pretty bad. He has no idea what he's doing and makes a lot of basic, amateurish mistakes. And then to read that Picasso and the others championed him basically as a joke, it's upsetting. But when I stand in front of a Rousseau -- not every one but too many for it to be an accident -- wow, they're just so wonderful. They feel fantastic. He sums up the mystery of art for me, because his paintings shouldn't work, but they do, and far beyond many others. In fact I sometimes wonder if Picasso and his friends really were joking when they praised Rousseau. Maybe they really were sincere. It's hard to tell at this remove.

The term "Outsider Art" has been denatured to the point of uselessness these days. "Primitive" was a better word but of course we don't write like that any more. Nowadays Outsider Art is anything made by anyone who isn't part of the established art world, which is dumb, since almost no one is part of the established art world. If a professional artist or dealer tells you your work sucks you can then proudly call yourself an Outsider and sell on eBay.

To me, Outsider Art is more properly art that isn't intended as art, objects made by someone who doesn't call themselves an artist and isn't engaged in creating anything they'd call art. If they think of themselves as artists, they're not Outsiders, that's my thinking. To my mind, Henry Darger is the consummate Outsider Artist, since he made his stuff for himself and no one else. His stuff is uniformly terrible, however.

95.

opie

March 28, 2010, 6:28 PM

Alexander seems like the best of the bunch. Did he show at Sideshow a couple years ago? Mattera looks good. Tint & La Rose OK. JT could be more interesting if he messed with the wood more. Much of it is a type of painting I can't characterize in words, a kind of lightweight "fragrant" abstraction. I see a lot of it & it does nothing for me.

The realists are OK as renderers but most are pretty chilly. A lot of naked ladies there, Chris - surprise, surprise.

And the one you predicted we wouldn't like? Aaargh!!

96.

opie

March 28, 2010, 6:31 PM

I should add, all of them have worked through into a style, mostly supported by some skill, which is a hell of a lot more than I can say for the Roberta Klutz Brigade

97.

Jack

March 28, 2010, 6:48 PM

OP, skill = patriarchy, or something equally fatuous.

98.

Chris Rywalt

March 28, 2010, 6:56 PM

Only two naked women artists. Maybe three. One one of them paints dead naked women, which is a little disturbing.

I'm surprised there aren't more figurative painters on there, and, heck, what's with all the landscape artists? I don't like landscapes! But as Greenberg said, you can't decide what you like, you just like it. And these are the artists I've seen (mostly in the last year) whose work I liked. It's not an exhaustive list by any means.

I've been assured that Kawasaki is kitsch. And, yeah, okay, I see that. But I like it on that shallow level, the way I like illustration. Intellectually I enjoy some of the effects she gets using the wood panel as her midtone. I included her because she's a little different in her approach to materials. I'm not sure it's precisely innovative but it's not common.

99.

Chris Rywalt

March 28, 2010, 7:02 PM

Also, she's probably the biggest seller out of the bunch. Although Jim Wolanin's shows have been doing well and for all I know Joanne's printing money.

I can't tell if the best-selling painter in my list being the one that makes OP go "Aaargh!" is amusing or to be expected.

100.

John

March 28, 2010, 10:18 PM

My mail gets comments up to 9:05 pm but neither Firefox nor IE displays any comments beyond 7:02pm.

101.

John

March 28, 2010, 10:25 PM

Looks like maybe a message from opie messed things up.

102.

Franklin

March 28, 2010, 10:31 PM

I won't lie to you - I have no idea what's going on here.

103.

opie

March 28, 2010, 10:31 PM

Same thing happened before. You might be right.

104.

John

March 28, 2010, 10:53 PM

Earlier today I was getting multiple copies of messages in my mailbox.

Firefox and Safari now display everything since #100 OK, IE hangs at #100 and can't go on.

"Never trust a computer" - I said that many years ago when I learned how to program.

105.

David

March 28, 2010, 10:57 PM

I posted what would have been #100 I think but it wouldn't post. Tried twice, then e-mailed Franklin. Don't think I did anything unusual.

106.

opie

March 28, 2010, 11:10 PM

I posted what would have been #100 also, but then anyone who did so after a cartain point would have also.

Maybe we all jammed the door.

107.

Franklin

March 28, 2010, 11:11 PM

Two nights in a row? Something's wrong with the server.

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