Andre Wallace

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Duchamp - sore comment

Waldemar Janusczcak in this week's Sunday Times takes on the old fraud Duchamp, master chess player, sometime artist, master of dissemblance and provocateur of cynical dissent. It seems that we need a show at the Barbican linking him to John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Merce Cunningham for state art to go on proving his huge contemporary significance.

If ever an artist needed a thoroughly rancid re-examination - he is the one.  We are not going to get this anytime soon however, there are way too many conceptual artists in education for that to happen, and state art is trying to back up them up as significant and meaningful. Pinning Duchamp to the wall with a hammer is way long time overdue. 

It's doubtful that Duchamp would have amounted to anything if he had not gone to america in 1917 to flee the accusations that he was a draft dodger, having been invalided out of the army in 1909 with poor lungs. Waldemar asks two significant questions which beg answers.

1 He asks why did Duchamp arrive at a radical re-definition of art?

2 He asks why is it unclear that most of his changes proved so popular that most of the art of today owes it's origon to him?
Some suggestions;
With respect to 1, Duchamp was kicking over the past, he didn't have the technical skills and facility of his brother Raymond Duchamp-Villon, and as a weak draughtsman he felt keenly his own visual limitations. He arrived at a new radical re-definition of art by default, and gulled all his ideas from an obsession with the occult that was everywhere at the time. The joke is key to understanding the duplicitous and emptiness of Duchamp's work.  Once you get it nothing remains, it's all over, no emotional engagement, unlike a Poussin or a Picasso. Wittgenstein was investigating language theory at the time, and he drew attention to the role of language in the joke. Duchamp invented the art equivalent. Jokes are meaningless once they have been laughed at, you move on, and this is the problem with all Duchamp's art and consequently with all conceptual art, there is no core.
With respect to 2, the reasons the changes he made have proved so popular is rooted in his visual poverty. He legitimizes a situation where talentless hacks could assert that any idea is art, free from the formal visual and aesthetic constraints that have come down from the 15th century. His chief acolytes are all americans, Craig-MartinSol Lewitt, Kosuth, or Lawrence Weiner. Using Jasper Johns and Rauschenberg to prop him up is perfidious, they relate to him only very superficially, because they are actually visual artists. The damned urinal was always a joke, he himself complained about it being taken seriously in the 1960's. He permitted the situation where the instant solution is legitimate, as standards of connoisseurship, sensibility and authority decayed ( a decay that he instituted) he filled the vacuum by making everything art. Picasso said he was wrong and he undoubtedly was. If everything is art, then logically nothing is also art. Yet for any object to be art it has to communicate and embody a meaning, and not just any old meaning that seems to be convenient. The large glass exemplifies the problem, there is no visual correspondance between the images and what Duchamp tells us that they mean, in other words the image tells you a lie. The coffee grinder, the bride, the malic moulds, the bachelors all have to be explained verbally because they fail to communicate anything of significance as visual objects. Visual art is preo-pedeutic,  i.e. it is instantly understood by the brain through the eye by seeing it.  Dada smashed the link between the eye and the  meaning of the object.
All this misbegotten stuff reached an apogee in 2002 when stunt artist Santiago Sierra exhibited  the closed and boarded up Lisson gallery as an artwork. As if this actually mattered to anyone except acolytes of duchamp. As AA Gill writes on the same page as Waldemar "Duchamp's heirs are entirely self referential, - whether their arguments have been made to the point of sterility is the biggest question now facing the contemporary art world." The answer to this is obvious, all of the people cannot be fooled all of the time. 

Roberta Smith has loudly proclaimed that language and ideas are the true essence of art, that visual experience and sensory delectation were secondary and inessential, if not downright mindless and immoral.
This is downright stupid. It is the substitution of abstracted symbols in words and verbal explanations for the visual image in art that is immoral and mindless. It is also unfortunately, very, very, easy to do unlike image creation, it just requires more mouth and front than Sainsbury's. A bride and bachelors are nowhere to be seen in the large glass until you have taken the huge trouble to find out where and what they are, by reading the wordy explanatory notes in the green box - Duchamp's boring explanation. Life is too short for this tiresome stupidity. Occult lies and mystification is all you get from this kind of verbal and arcane mystification, and the investigation itself really isn't worth the candle. Taxpayers money ought to be spent on the truth, not on very old, very tired lies and deception. It's noticeable despite all the rhetoric and self promotion, conceptual art has produced few artefacts of lasting cultural value,

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ron Kitaj and vitriol

An article in this week's Observer about Kitaj and some of the usual art critics from a Tate retrospective of 1994.  Altogether a wholly shameful episode from that doyen of ethics and decency above the art market, the critical media. The critics took to outdoing one another in their condemnation of Kitaj's work, Brian Sewell reportedly wrote: "Kitaj is a vain painter puffed up with amour propre not worthy of a footnote in the history of art." Richard Morpeth who curated the 1994 Tate show states that the critics damned Kitaj as a pseudo-intellectual bullshitter. Andrew Graham Dixon was particularly bilious in his assault on the work, whilst Richard Dorment aroused Kitaj's ire to such an extent he considered sending Kitaj's angry letters to the police. Dorment is often wrong about everything. The criticism wasn't anywhere near as vitriolic as is now common parlance in the blogosphere and Kitaj was a particularly difficult artist to explain though the public liked his work. His early work is undoubtedly his best, and it now seems very sad that his forays into literary theory were seen as pseudo and pretentious after nearly two decades of the verbal and conceptual stuff that is now posturing as visual art. There is something about all Kitaj's imagery that is both, trying too hard and high minded, the arcane referents within the art are assumed to be self justifying when they often fail to convince or even communicate. His use of black line and other easy graphic devices  verged upon the kitsch, but do not give offense which cannot be said for the work of the usual suspects. No-one comes out of this sad saga with any grace.  The critics agenda of the time was the promotion of dumbing down and it depressing how many of them are still around.

When Kitaj fell foul of the UK critical establishment in 1994 he blamed the critics for the stress that caused the death of his wife from an aneurism two weeks after the opening of his major Tate retrospective exhibition. One doesn't usually hear that much of artists suffering at the hands of critics but many have done so, most simply get on with life and ignore the brickbats. Being ignored is often worse than bad publicity. Kitaj was an artist who simply couldn't do this, he invested so much of himself emotionally and intellectually in his art, when his major retrospective was universally panned he reacted very, very badly. There was however, little sense in investing that much faith in art, it was only art after all. No-one ever knows what the verdict of posterity will be - as the sainted Marcel Duchamp was so fond of repeating, least of all critics and it matters little.

Be that as it may Kitaj's art is the subject of two revisionist exhibitions next month at Pallant house gallery Chichester and the Jewish museum London, the first exhibitions of his work since his sad suicide in 2007. It will be interesting to see if the work will be perceived more benignly.

Charles Darwent at the Independent on sunday waxes lyrically about the light show at te Hayward, says it's marvellous and well worth a visit. In a category confusion he suggests James Turrell's Wedgework V verges upon  a religious experience. Waldemar Janusczcak at the sunday Times enthuses about the Man ray exhibition at the National Portrait gallery and the Schwitters at Tate Britain.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Schwitters and Lights.

This week's press is a mixed bag of criticism concerned with the light show at the Hayward Gallery. This has been tackled by Waldemar at the Sunday Times and Laura Cumming at the Observer.
Waldemar calls it a glowing affair of art works dating from the 60's onwards. Carlos Cruz-Diaz who is ninety years old this year presents three rooms as happy making as christmas lights. Waldemar agrues that the light experiences are both mindless and banal, deep and profound so it's best to suspend belief at all this entertainment. He says modern technology (sic) enable artists to sculpt light in effusive vein he writes; "where a sunset by Turner is a messy invasion by grand troops a Turrell installation is a precise drome strike." This is not to say that he likes it all, Jenny Holzers a wordy artist whose monument has the sensitivity of a bulldozer whilst Leo Villareals column of spangels is only suitable for the disco.
Laura Cumming on the other hand is thrilled by the light entertainment and says Anthony Mc Call sets the standard for the show along with James Turrell and Dan Falvin  - as one would expect. In truth the show is an inventory of light art, including Ivan Navarro's Tardis which she says puts optics to moral effect. In summary she suggests that the show is overwhelming in its artificial beauty. Seems like the curates egg, good in parts.

Charles Darwent tackles the Schwitters show at Tate Britain. It seems, he says altogether a sad tale of arts establishment neglect. Schwitters history, his flight from Herr Hitler, his merzbild, his barn extensions in the Lake district are all well documented. What isn't so well understood is his neglect by the English art establishment, but then they have always been very good at ignoring refugee geniuses such as Bomberg. Schwitters we are told owes his reputation to those two geniuses who exploited his innovations fully, Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi  a decade after his mal-nourished death. His adopted country found him a bit of an embarrassment but then there were quite a few artists who had fled from Hitler teaching in UK art schools in the 1950's and 60's. It seems a shame he wasn't helped  out with a suitable teaching post. Brain Sewell's review at the evening standard is his usual combative self.

The FT review of the Schwitters show is here

Two other notes from todays press. There is now a tendency for critics to complain about the language of art criticism as reporter Christina Paterson does in the Independent. She discusses art language, the language of pretence, subversion, notion, narrative, interrogation, deconstruction, hierarchies, etc, etc,. She argues that the language employed by art galleries is an attempt to hide something, perhaps the fact that the Hedge fund inspired art isn't actually very good. All of which is quite obvious and also true, but it is the result of a university education that uses continental hermeneutics and phenomenology speak to excuse and conflate the conceptually weak, the terminally inadequate and the sadly pathetic.  Jargon is often often used  to disguise inadequate intellect, hence this sort of junk: "Ashley Bickerton was showing at the same time. We learn that a woman featured in one painting, though not one of the “hallooed cultic figures”, is “taught and emotional”, while the description of the same work concludes with the sentence: “Bickerton’s exotic is necessarily impure and psychotropic.”

Two obituary's to note; The death of the inventor of very worst drawing tool ever devised which nevertheless sold in the millions, the Etch a Sketch , one Andre Cassagnes. The computer literate generation must be bemused by this device which only taught one how to tolerate drawing frustration, and not how to draw. Secondly the death of artist Peggy Ryan who was said to be the best Slade student since Augustus John and became famous as a picture restorer.