Monday, May 30, 2005

Reading about contemporary art history

Max Ernst, Woman/She-Bird (1921)
One of Cologne Dada's exhibitions was held in a space that could only be entered through a men's lavatory. It was promptly closed as an outrage against public morality on the grounds that one of the works--a 1920 Ernst collage titled The Word/She Bird--was pornographic. Ironically, the offending nude was the figure of Eve lifted directly from a 1504 print by Albrecht Dürer.
I've recently come across two very different texts about contemporary art history. The first one is about Max Ernst, the second, about the development of works that question(ed) the limit between art and life. The second topic is much closer to my interests, but surprizingly the
text itself, entitled Hybrid processes between art and life, (by Rudolf Frieling, a curator and lecturer specializing in media art) made me... bored. It is quite an exhaustive and exhausting survey of performance (and media) art works that played with the notion of reality. I am sure many people can find it informative, although it doesn't really seem to discover any new grounds. It is intelligent, very scholarly, extremely well researched. But it is also inhuman in the way it spits out names, events, movements and ideas. Roselee Goldberg also condensates in her books, but she has pity on the readers. Perhaps because of the final rehearsal rush, all this is too much for my limited brainpower. I simply float away into other realms. And as I was floating, I flew across an excellent review of a new Max Ernst exhibition in New York, by Arthur C. Danto. Danto is a known and respected art critic and philosopher, author of such publications as the highly recommendable (though debatable) After the End of Art (there are some amazing reviewsof it on Amazon). Here, he manages to combine well-written criticism with great insight and sense of humor. Somehow, now I feel much closer to Ernst than to the whole gang of "disappearing ink draughtsmen".
The work was not meant to be visually ingratiating, so it is sheer historical misjudgment to dismiss Ernst as "the worst leading painter in the twentieth century's most visually miserable major artistic movement," as one of my fellow critics recently put it.
And another bit:
New York has been spared the all-too-familiar scenario of pious poster bearers, outraged politicians, defenders of artistic freedom citing the First Amendment, and the learned presence of art historians, theologians and perhaps psychologists explaining to viewers of The Charlie Rose Show that the Holy Boy, in the nature of His humanity, must more than once have tried his Mom's patience. But I doubt Ernst would have been pleased by the somber spirit of cultural duty and aesthetic appraisal with which his art is being approached at the Met. No one loved a good public dust-up more than Ernst and his Dadaist comrades, who used art to assail a society they held responsible for the pointless slaughter of millions in World War I.

Max Ernst, The Blessed Virgin Chastises the Infant Jesus Before Three Witnesses: A.B., P.E. and the Artist, (1926)

(via and via)


Hans said...

"who used art to assail a society they held responsible for the pointless slaughter of millions"

Todays art also "can" more to have to do with that idea. The time did not change much.

vvoi said...

but shouldn't one of our main principles be "being effective"? how does that leave us, as artists, if we still "try and make a change" through the same sort of artistic endeavors as have been made many times before? isn't that somewhat naive, to create with such a goal? i remember quoting some contemporary sculptor on this blog, saying "no serious person still believes sculpture can change anything".

El señor Sommer said...

Well, are artists not dreamers? I myserlf would love to be able to dream. Why not use art to acomplish the promises made in the past, the dreams of Nietzsche and Kant. Why not make of art a Zaratustra? Why not illustrate through art?


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