Friday, April 18, 2014

beide realismen

MK: In the preface to your 1971 portfolio of editions, Grafik des Kapitalistischen Realismus, you described Capitalist Realism as explicitly political, a form of social intervention, and expressed disappointment in the participating artists later ‘fleeing’ to the fine arts. Do you still hold this perspective?

RB: When I published Grafik des Kapitalistischen Realismus,...we already had some distance from this term. It was a concept of the mid-‘60s, after the Berlin Wall had been erected. Nevertheless, it was important for me to have a section in the book in which images of works of artists of the Kapitalistischer Realismus were juxtaposed with works from East German artists who worked in the style of Socialist Realism. This was a very interesting confrontation, done for the first time. And it demonstrated that Capitalist Realism was also a kind of political statement. So yes, I expressed disappointment that the artists from the West by then seemed to have fled to the fine arts, seemed to have given up their inimitable position. That this worry was without reason, however, became evident in the later works from the ‘80s and ‘90s of Brehmer and Polke, and most certainly in Richter’s Baader-Meinhof cycle, October 18, 1977.

From an interview with gallerist René Block, Artforum, April 2014

Monday, September 30, 2013

climbing mount moribund

IB: Have you always known that those things are what you want to make? Or that this is the space you want to make work in?

AS: I've always been extremely drawn to things that were problematic. I liked painting because supposedly painting was dead, and I liked the idea of being a female and painting because everyone was saying that painting was a male language. Or I like the idea of formalism, which seemed verboten when I went to art school.

IB: You didn't necessarily like them because you wanted to resuscitate them, you just wanted to figure out why they were in the place they were.

AS: Yes, because difficulty is interesting.

IB: You are a contrarian.

AS: Not a contrarian, a scrapper.

IB: What turns you on about that?

AS: To go into the middle of a knot is a form of integrity to me -- and to investigate the area that seems like the worst thing you could do is kind of exciting.

Amy Sillman, interviewed by Ian Berry, c. 2007

Monday, September 23, 2013

whither autonomy?

Julian Stallabrass, in Art Incorporated (2004):
“It is an old worry, found in modernism as well as postmodernism, though in different forms. Fernand Léger stood before the machine exhibits of the Paris Fair in 1924, marveling at how such immaculate productions outshined the poor, self-conscious efforts of artists. The argument that art is no longer possible because the world of products is saturated with aesthetics is the postmodern variant of the same anxiety; a modernist dream of the merging of art and life has apparently also been realized, though less in synthesis than the surrender of the weaker party.

While the issue of art’s separation from or mergence with commodity culture has a long history, during the 1990s there was an intensification of the forces involved – many of them old features of capitalism – that contributed to the dominance of a triumphant consumer culture not just over art but over all other cultural production. Commodities seemed to become even less like functional objects and more like evanescent cultural moves within a sophisticated, self-referential game. Brand names hopped between products unrelated in all but name, while advertising churned over reference, self-reference, and meta-reference in an accelerating consumption devouring of old and new cultural attachments. The greatest profit continued to be made not in industry but in services, data-processing, and finance, and the success of those sectors was most associated with the neoliberal economies, especially in the U.S. ...Continental Europe moved to embrace the neoliberal model, sugar-coated though it was through much of the mid- and late 1990s with nominally social democratic governance. Like commodification itself, the neoliberal model widened its ambit and deepened its hold.”

Perhaps the most concise and compact description of the conflicts inherent in postmodernist art that I’ve encountered so far, getting at what so many accounts and authors have tend to sidestep or dance around over the years. Squarely addressing something that began to nag at me nearly twenty years ago when I undertook my graduate studies, an unease that began to set in as I tucked further into the matter of modern and contemporary art history. And why I often found myself annoyed with so many accounts of the triumph of Pop Art and its continuing legacy, because this sort of thing – I sensed even then – constituted the slippery underside of the argument. Even worse that the decree was usually coupled with a smug middle-class smugness that intimated that – thank goodness – art was no longer something so lofty of important, it now having been relegated to the back seat or – in more generous accounts – at least held an equal (though peripheral) footing. Nothing that one had to take so seriously anymore, not since it’d been put in itself more proper place by the more pervasive consumer culture, which now operated as a sort of ersatz common culture. In that respect, Donald Kuspit’s (wretch) argument about the “end of art” came across as the artworld equivalent of Fukuyama’s thesis about the “end of history.” Complete with the bit about centuries of boredom following in its wake.

The bit about Léger’s anxiety: It’s an ever-more-common misgiving, something that I encountered only recently (in an interview with Pierre Huyghe, perhaps?); that art can effectively only embarrass itself when it tries to compete with the contemporary realm of Spectacular culture. Why? Because it’s fated to come off as chintzy and meager by comparison. It’ll never have anything remotely like the same degree of money or industrial collaborative resources behind it, so its production values will always be (at best) modest and limited it ambition. Doesn’t matter how much Matthew Barney has Hugo Boss in his corner or whatever.

Not that’s necessarily a bad thing, mind you. Despite all appearances, big, bloated, bombastic art usually makes for the worst, most feeble type of art (and usually comes off as a bit fascist at the same time). And the entertainment industry seems increasingly incapable of making a big-budget film that isn’t a tiresome waste of time and money, that isn’t total shit. So perhaps better to try and think through what’s really at stake in the whole matter.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Saturday, July 6, 2013

die lebenswelt

Funny, seeing this recently turn up at the tumblr for the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, where it's accompanied by the gittish caption:
Artists: They’re Just Like Us! They love ice cream!

Andy Warhol and Philip Pearlstein in the cafeteria at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, 1948-49. / unidentified photographer.
Funny, I say, because when I was in undergrad many years ago, my alma mater brought Pearlstein in for a guest presentation; and at one point he briefly talked about knowing Warhol back in his student days, when the two of them took design and printmaking courses together. He also spoke of his own fleeting brush with proto-Pop subject matter, when he was confronted that same pictoral crisis that so many young artists of the post-war/-AbEx generation faced -- the taxing conundrum of "What to paint?"

At another point, someone asked him if he'd encountered any of the AbEx-ers back in those day, when he first arrived in New York around 1950(ish). "Yes, in fact, I used to see Bill DeKooning in the Village quite often," he grinned. "Usually stepping over him while he was passed out on the sidewalk drunk." I thought it was a smug and obnoxious remark -- probably unlikely, definitely unfair, and eye-rollingly trite as far as ad hominem dismissals go.

Reading a couple of interviews with Pearlstein shortly thereafter, I was struck by how the guy definitely seemed to possess a self-aggrandizing and puritanical streak. I recall at one point reading him proclaiming that in his art he had "taken the human figure back from all the sensualists and the pornographers," or something very much to that effect. If you say so, I thought, But why then do your figures all look so clinically sterile, so bloodless? It's a problem I've had with about 90% of most figure painting. You might have your Schieles and Beckmanns and Bacons or Neels or Schutzes or whoever, but figural painters of that type are far more the exception than the rule. Most often what you wind up with is an endlessly numbing parade of technical exercises -- lots of showmanship concerning rendering, modeling and composition, but generally (if not completely) lacking in any sort of psychological or corporeal resonance. The human figure as a mere object, as depicted amid a variety of other objects.

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