Monday, March 8, 2010

Distinctions?


_With so much to choose from how do we make distinctions?
_Distinctions or Dichotomy: the panel topic at the Verge Art Fair last Saturday (3/6/10) came about to further the discussion that arose in the wake of critic Roberta Smith’s “Post Minimal to the Max” article in the February 14th 2010, New York Times. The panel, organized by artist and writer Camilla Fallon, sought to take on two sentences that have sparked a great deal of discussion in blogs and most especially Facebook.
“What's missing is art that seems made by one person out of intense personal necessity, often by hand. A lot but not all of this kind of work is painting.” – Roberta Smith
Smith’s article seemed to strike a chord with many who feel overlooked by art world institutions built on blockbuster shows by a handful of superstar artists. I think the undercurrent sentiment is that these shows lack a vitality, the art is phoned in, and… move over because I have some really good work that would look just as good given the chance.
Overall my reaction was a feeling that given the brevity of the topic sentences there is much more to be said here. The panel could only begin to un-spool a few of the threads that are contained in Smith’s thought. Not the least of which is the observation that Roberta Smith has herself written positively about some ‘big box’ shows and bad boy artists.
The panel had some internal debate concerning corporate art; also an onion of many layers. In simply trying to define this big box feeling we have to decide if we are referring to the ubiquitous stainless sculpture in front of a corporate headquarters, the way in which artists are selected by major institutions or the way in which certain big name artists manage their careers. (brand might be a term that applies here as well) On the latter point Jeff Koons was held to be the current poster boy.
Panelist Peter Reginato made a point of describing that the opposite of good art could be great art. Perhaps that point being that the acceleration of college arts programs is funneling plenty of good artists into the system with nowhere to go. Plenty of good art is being made but the dearth of opportunity makes great art the true pearl in a sea of oysters. My experience of the NYC art fairs this past weekend seemed to bear this out. While my NY colleagues seem found plenty to dislike (the art was by turns either boring, derivative, too crude, too polished etc) for me it all seemed ok – not to much standing head and shoulders above any other. So, essentially an ocean miles wide and inches deep.
Yet the panel seemed in agreement that perhaps we are taking to much away from the statement concerning intense personal necessity. All of us present; and most were artists, seemed inclined to believe that this is probably true of most artists despite differing amounts of talent or resources.
Writer and critic, John Haber, provided an invaluable historical record concerning the hand made rubric that certainly calls into question the very notion of why handmade is the banner we should all be following. Just as well, speaking for myself as I don’t consider myself a painter but rather work in a variety of media depending on the idea I’m concerned with at the moment. Thus my personal work can alternately go through extremes of total digital assembly to intense handcrafting.
Another topic that surfaced was the role of museums, with discussions ranging from the explanation card hanging next to many works to institutional survival strategy during the recession. Actually Lisa Becks comments on the tendency of these little cards to focus on process actually detracting from our appreciation later hit home as I attended the art fairs and gallery representatives would “sell’ me by turns on the either incredibly tedious, or inventive, or traditional methods the artist employed.

Matthew Rose collages at Red Dot Art Fair
So for all the fervor witnessed on the Internet this may not signal a return to the lone artist laboring on blank canvas. There are institutional concerns, money concerns and concern with the role of the critic’s ability to sort through the multiplicity of art venues. While we may well get a shot at the 15 minutes on the stage for many even that may be pushing the envelope. Judging from my own reaction to visiting six of the twelve art fairs concurrently running I felt like I was speed dating artists. I wouldn’t be making art, writing about art and viewing art if it wasn’t out of intense personal necessity, but after two days of nonstop viewing even I could only spare artists 20 – 30 seconds to make an impression. Such is the nature of the beast.
Distinctions or Dichotomy was moderated by artist and writer Camilla Fallon with panelists Jill Connor, John Haber, Lisa Beck, Peter Reginato and Dennis Kardon. Thanks to all for the enjoyable discussion!
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