Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Time offf

Until the end of January I probably won't be able to post. In the meantime, enjoy the archives and the links.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Crisis etc.

There's a huge crisis in the Portuguese Ministery of Culture, and I'm writing about the influence of the CIA on the abstract art of the 70's. Escapism?

Francois Lefranc, Escapism (2001)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Abstract art's secret agents

Sam Francis, “Untitled” (ca. 1988-89)

Reposting can really be a good thing.
In 2003 Mark Vallen, the author of one of the most conservative contemporary art blogs I know, wrote a review of a book called The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. Because of a recent exhibition of Sam Francis' works (mind you, Mark Vallen despises abstract painting), he reposted the text. Here are some fragments:
(...)during the height of the Cold War in the 1950's, the CIA secretly promoted abstract expressionism as a means of discrediting the socialist realism of the Soviet Union.(...)The spy agency created and staffed an international institution they named the Congress for Cultural Freedom(CCF,) and from 1950 to 1967 (when the front group was at last exposed as a CIA operation,) the spook endowment had secretly bankrolled the abstract expressionist movement with untold millions of dollars. (...) The CIA orchestrated the publication of a major article on Jackson Pollock in LIFE Magazine declaring him "the shining new phenomenon of American art," and the "greatest living artist."(...) The CIA applied considerable muscle in its endeavor to support and advance the abstract expressionist movement, and in large part they were successful. Realism became passé as art critics focused on singing the praises of action painting.
While this is certainly a very one-sided way of seeing things, the very fact that the CIA took such an active part in the art world is spooky. It's a classic conspiracy theory gone alternative, cynical and bewildering, as all good conspiracy theories are. Where does that put us? In the box of silly lunatics, children that are easily manipulated by anyone with money to spend on PR?
Nonetheless, if we read into art history a little more closely, and if we compare it to the changes in Western mentality, this apparent manipulation of the CIA is really just participating in a much bigger wave. I hope this blog shows that, contrary to what Mark Vallen would like us to believe, this wave hasn't only brought "decay and primitivism", but also many wonderful, crazy, profound, unexpected or simply - beautiful experiences. And one doesn't need to adore Sam Francis (I don't) to appreciate that.

For more on the book in question:

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Art Bar

What would a real Art Bar look like? Of course, it would have nothing to do with those fancy, plushh interiors for posh people that have art director written on their business cards. It would have to be a place that corresponds to the very thing art is. And that wouldn't necessarily be so happy, would it?
Here's an attempt at imagining what a real Art Bar would look like. The 2002 work is a funny, light, and at times fairly sophisticated art amateur's inside joke, by Steve Whitehouse (and the Petrie Lounge).
The site has several other little gems, like this DaVinci Blues (1999 Flash animation that still looks fresh!), also by Steve Whitehouse.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Duchamp, Urinals, and the Press

Yes, Duchamp's Fountain is safe. It was attacked by an old man with a hammer, but without success. Only some pieces of porcelain were chipped away. The porcelain seems to be of good quality.
The author of the act considers them performance art. Maybe in an act of revenge, the police wouldn't reveal his name - although we know it's Pierre Pinoncelli, as this wasn't his first act of performance art with this piece - in 1993 he peed into it (and I think he also tried hitting it with a hammer).
The act itself isn't particularly original. The fact that Duchamp disapproved of museums could be an argument, but then of course, he tried, unseccessfuly, to put Fountain in an exhibition. Is messing with other people's work bad? Using other people's works for the creation of new ones is an entire tradition. A few years ago Maurizio Cattelan stole another artist's (Paul de Reus's) entire exhibition and put it as his own (and had troubles with the police because of that), Robert Rauschenberg erased drawings by De Kooning, etc, etc...
I have no problem seeing both a piece of art and a crime in such an event. I don't see why these two should be incompatible.
There is another interesting thing about the recent art attack. The way it was described by the media. Comapre the title in USA Today: "Dada artist accused of vandalizing Duchamp piece" with the one in The Independent: "Protester tries to chip away at the reputation of Duchamp's urinal". The latter refers to the artwork as to "the urinal", without even giving its title! Fortunately, other sources of information are available: the Polish Gazeta Wyborcza writes about the object's history, Le Monde has the longest and by far the most comprehensive article, citing the perpetrator/artist ("It was going to have a miserable was better to end it using a hammer"), and even mentions a rarely mentioned fact: the urinal is not the original Fountain, but one of the eight copies (??) that were made by the artist in 1964 (!!!), since the original was "lost" in 1917.
PS. According to one commentator, the dadaists made an exhibition in the 1920's where every visitor received a hammer, thus allowing her to participate in the art...

Friday, January 06, 2006

Conceptual or not conceptual?

Photosynthesis Robot, by Amy Franceschini and Michael Swaine of Futurefarmers, is a possible perpetual motion machine driven by phototropism - the movement of plants towards the direction of the sun. The motion of the plants upon this four wheeled vehicle would propel slowly over a period of time.


I've been working with a group of artists on an idea not too distant from this, with one great difference: our project is not conceptual (sorry, can't reveal details for now). If it comes to life, it will be a highly complicated and high-tech work, nothing even similar to what I've been doing so far. And it costs. A lot. We're now fighting for funding. The question is: is it really worth creating "real things", if a "dummy" does the job? I mean, isn't that just the cutest thing in the world? Do we need to need more? Or maybe "doing the job" is actually hiding the possible diversity of such "jobs"... I just wish we came up with this simple witty idea instead of moving into heavy artillery.

Thanks Ivan Franco at YDreams for the link, and to we-make-money-not-art for the discovery.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Art of(f) the Edge

The internet "intellectual site" Edge has recently published the answers to its Question of the Year. The question this year was "What is Your Dangerous Idea?" The answers came from a range of intellectuals, 117 of them to be precise. Most of them are physicists or psychologists, many scientists from other areas, a few writers. And three (non-writer) artists. Make that four - I forgot Michael "Nez" Lesmith, ex-member of The Monkees, who writes that according to him "Existence is Non-Time, Non-Sequential, and Non-Objective". (I'm glad - and somewhat scared - to know that.) As for the other three artists... The first one to appear is Richard Foreman, declaring that "Radicalized relativity" is his dangerous idea:
In my area of the arts and humanities, the most dangerous idea (and the one under who's influence I have operated throughout my artistic life) is the complete relativity of all positions and styles of procedure. The notion that there are no "absolutes" in art — and in the modern era, each valuable effort has been, in one way or another, the highlighting and glorification of elements previous [I think it should be "previously" - Vvoi] "off limits" and rejected by the previous "classical" style.
This rhetoric is so old I think it isn't really worth spending too much time on its critique (I've been writing about the issues and problems of the avant garde quite often anyway). Suffice it to say we all know there are no "absolutes", until we build them. And Foreman's theater has built such an absolute out of a particular stage language, a very consistent and not at all "off limits" one, at least not if by the term one means something innovative.
The second artist to answer the question is "famous landscape painter" April Gornik. And she makes an interesting remark:
The exact effect of art can't be controlled or fully anticipated
Great art makes itself vulnerable to interpretation, which is one reason that it keeps being stimulating and fascinating for generations. The problem inherent in this is that art could inspire malevolent behavior, as per the notion popularly expressed by A Clockwork Orange. When I was young, aspiring to be a conceptual artist, it disturbed me greatly that I couldn't control the interpretation of my work. When I began painting, it was even worse; even I wasn't completely sure of what my art meant. That seemed dangerous for me, personally, at that time. I gradually came not only to respect the complexity and inscrutability of painting and art, but to see how it empowers the object. I believe that works of art are animated by their creators, and remain able to generate thoughts, feelings, responses. However, the fact is that the exact effect of art can't be controlled or fully anticipated.

This is indeed interesting, and every artist must have had this experience - the work lives its own life. It isn't quite what I would call a revolutionary insight, but it is probably something new to many amateurs (and amateur amateurs) of art.
Finally, we have one of the "art starlets of the 90's", Eric Fischl. I do not particularly appreciate his work, but here is a thought of his that might sound intriguing:
(...) Vermeer puts me into what had been [his subject's] condition of uncertainty. All I can do is wonder and wait. This makes me think about how not knowing is so important. Not knowing makes the world large and uncertain and our survival tenuous. It is a mystery why humans roam and still more a mystery why we still need to feel so connected to the place we have left. The not knowing causes such profound anxiety it, in turn, spawns creativity. The impetus for this creativity is empowerment. Our gadgets, gizmoes, networks of transportation and communication, have all been developed either to explore, utilize or master the unknown territory.
If the unknown becomes known, and is not replaced with a new unknown, if the farther we reach outward is connected only to how fast we can bring it home, if the time between not knowing and knowing becomes too small, creativity will be daunted. And so I worry, if we bring the universe more completely, more effortlessly, into our homes will there be less reason to leave them?
What should I make of this? If you happen to have no background in philosophy, you might be impressed. The problem is, right next to this answer are more than a hundred answers that prove it wrong. They are ideas and reflections that put us back into a state of uncertainty, which, it is true, "spawns creativity", demanding new answers, new questions, new ways of touching.
Maybe, just maybe, the artists are supposed to be the ones touching, and not reflecting. And that would be the reason for such (I'm sorry) lame answers. My point is not that artists are stupid though. That they express, but are bad at analyzing. Many proofs have been giving of how false this statement is. Rather, I wonder - weren't the artists supposed to be the ones with dangerous ideas? The revolutionaries? The inventors of new worlds?
Here's an idea: they still might be. But nobody really cares, because artists live in a parallel world. Even the intellectual elites have no idea who can be an (intellectual, not just "intuitive" !) challenge for them. Who can be a partner in a crazy conversation about the future.
The good news is, no Hollywood stars even got a chance to answer the question. The bad - if the artists keep on answering so badly, or so quietly, they're bound to disappear, too. Without the comforting entertainment-style check...

pictures by April Gornik -
Field and Storm (2003) and Storm at Sea (2005)

I should have been a waiter

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