Summer Reading

Summer Reading – No one cares about art criticism: advocating for an embodiment of the avant-garde as an alternative to capitalism

Today we continue our Summer Reading series with an essay on art criticism and poetry from our friends at Temporary Art Review. Author Steven Cottingham throws down a challenge: “How can art criticism be so close to art but fail to reflect any of its spirit? […] Maybe there is a future where art criticism is no longer a supplementary, reactionary activity. Maybe it can become revolutionary.” This article was originally published on March 23, 2015.

Jenny Holzer. You are a victim of the rules you live by, n.d.

Jenny Holzer. You Are a Victim of the Rules You Live By, n.d.

There’s an increasingly old adage, first invoked by Brion Gysin, stating that innovations in writing are fifty years behind innovations in visual art. But surely innovations in art criticism are a further fifty years behind.

In Parkett 84, Charles Bernstein argues that “art criticism, insofar as it succumbs to a paranoiac fear of theatricality that induces frame-lock, lags behind poetry at its peril.” I am going to argue the same: identifying professionalism—and therefore capitalism—as the key catalysts behind art criticism’s undying crisis.

In a 2008 feature for X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly, Damon Willick elucidates how art criticism has “seemingly been in crisis for at least the last fifty years.” I could list off a dozen other articles and a couple conferences vaguely articulating the “crisis in criticism,” (I’m sure you’ve seen them lurking out there) but I’d rather offer something else. Willick says that “today’s discontents have idealized [Clement] Greenberg and critics of his era as the antithesis of the noncommittal, jargon-laden art historians/critics they believe have guided art criticism to its current state.” But even the preeminent critic Greenberg himself opined that “contemporary art criticism is absurd not only because of its rhetoric, its language, and its solecisms of logic. It is also absurd because of its repetitiousness.” That was in 1962.

Art criticism, once practiced almost solely by poets, now has very little in common with contemporary poetry. Leaving the flamboyant realms of Guillaume Apollinaire, Frank O’Hara, and other dead white men, art criticism became stolid, academic, and serious. But I was reading about how William S. Burroughs looked to painting to “revive” his writing. Inspired by the likes of Hannah Höch and Nancy Spero, he borrowed techniques of collage, cut-up, and chance, and applied them to the written word. Poet and criminal defence attorney Vanessa Place draws from long-standing traditions in conceptual art when she moves words from courtroom transcripts, unaltered, to her books of poetry. Once, she tweeted, “Poetry is now fifteen minutes ahead of art.” I retweeted her. These conceptual techniques are increasingly interdisciplinary, en route to fully being embraced by a broader mass culture. Yet art criticism lags on, both the subjects and styles of its reviews as isolated and protected as an artwork in a white cube. All of it, ignoring so much.

Read the full article here.

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Summer Reading

Summer Reading – In Conversation: Peter Schjeldahl

Today from our friends at the Brooklyn Rail, we bring you Jarrett Earnest’s conversation with famed art critic Peter Schjeldahl. This interview is perfect for our Summer Reading series because it digs deep into what it means to contemplate and respond to contemporary art; Schjeldahl says, “Looking at art is like, ‘Here are the answers. What were the questions?’” This article was originally published on July 13, 2015.

Phong Bui. Portrait of Peter Schjeldahl, n.d.; Pencil on paper.

Phong Bui. Portrait of Peter Schjeldahl, n.d.; pencil on paper.

In the pantheon of art writers, Peter Schjeldahl holds a special place near the top as one of our greatest living critics. He entered the New York scene in the ’60s, a poet and college dropout escaping a Lutheran upbringing in Minnesota. Over the decades, his language has remained surprisingly fresh and unfailingly precise—the kind of effortless grace born of relentless practice, like a ballet dancer’s landing. Art critic for the New Yorker since 1998, he is alive to the nuanced movements of his own feelings, which he charts over the course of each review. This summer he met with the Rail’s Jarrett Earnest to discuss the interconnections between seeing, feeling, and writing.

Rail: From your writing it seems like the domain of art is for understanding our sensations of being in the shared world.

Schjeldahl: The arts are a great little laboratory, of absolutely free play of ideas and emotions which normal social space can’t cope with: You can play war and nobody dies, and play love and nobody has their heart broken. It’s also an education in physiology: the mechanisms and functioning and limits of consciousness.

Rail: When did that interest start?

Schjeldahl: In the ’60s, the drugs had a role. I dropped acid maybe five times. The first time was kind of great, the second was iffy, the other times were nightmares. That wasn’t a good enough excuse not to do it, because if you had a bad trip that was a character flaw—you had failed the drug. But it gave me a lot of information. It’s hard to describe, of course. It’s as if every bit of the mind is active and being seen, but by nobody—phenomena without a witness. Which may freak a person seriously out.

Read the full article here.

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Summer Reading

Summer Reading – (Un)doing (Un)compensation

In selecting the articles for our Summer Reading series—ones that we think exemplify current issues in the field of contemporary art—we would be remiss if we did not include Caroline Woolard’s consideration of “[the] seven ways in which I attempt to navigate inequity within institutions and collective projects.” This article was originally published in Art Practical’s special issue “Valuing Labor in the Arts” on April 3, 2014.

Caroline Woolard. ourgoods.org cards, 2010. Courtesy of the Artist.

Caroline Woolard. ourgoods.org cards, 2010. Courtesy of the Artist.

Within a neoliberal economy that supports the debt-backed-professionalization of artists and activists, I question the relationship between overproduction and underpayment. What are the conditions that make overproduction desirable? When did monetary payment for art and activism become necessary? While artists and activists demand payment for work, we must also articulate our relationship to payment systems: market sales, state-support, philanthropy, and solidarity economies that center on livelihood. Acknowledging the diverse economies that I circulate in, I hope this writing points towards the internal contradictions that make professionalized, debtor artists and activists in the United States (including me) hustle for cash while engaging in projects on scales that cannot possibly compensate all participants equitably.

As most people reading this already know, the labor behind many works of art is veiled by a myth of individual genius. Although contemporary artworks that circulate in museums, galleries, and biennials are mostly produced by unpaid interns, underpaid artists’ assistants, seasonally-employed shop technicians, and far-flung contractors hired by artists’ project managers, narratives that celebrate individual charisma and “the artist’s touch” continue to permeate wall labels and art discourse alike.

Many artist-collectives, by sharing labor and decision making power, counteract the alienation that often occurs with an hourly wage and a drive towards efficiency in rapid production. To make labor visible, for Artists Experiment at MoMA in 2013, I proposed an ongoing event where artists, interns, assistants, and craftspeople would stand beside the works of art that they labored on, telling visitors about the process of producing each work, as well as the forms of compensation received by each person. This proposal, submitted as one of six options for Artists Experiment project at MoMA, was not chosen.

Read the full article here.

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Summer Reading

Summer Reading – It’s Not Stealing If It’s Art: A Re-Primer on Image Appropriation for the Internet Generation

From our friends at MOMUS, today we bring you “It’s Not Stealing If It’s Art: A Re-Primer On Image Appropriation for the Internet Generation.” This funny, provocative essay by RM Vaughan considers recent skirmishes that involve images created or reused by the Suicide Girls, Richard Prince, Arabelle Sicardi and Tayler Smith, and Zak Arctander. Vaughan delineates his position with the question: “Here is where I must ask, what don’t visual artists today get about putting imagery up on the internet? Once you click ‘post,’ you lose ownership. And you know this because you participate in the grab-ass yourself.” This essay was originally published on July 6, 2015.

Left, Arabelle Sicardi and Tayler Smith's original photograph, "Hari Nef," 2014. Right, Zak Arctander's appropriation, "Cheeks," 2015.

Left, Arabelle Sicardi and Tayler Smith’s original photograph, “Hari Nef,” 2014. Right, Zak Arctander’s appropriation, “Cheeks,” 2015.

Julia Kristeva branded the concept of “intertextuality” nearly four decades ago, but technology and philosophy are poorly matched bedfellows. It’s time to spell out the basics of appropriation in visual culture for the smartphone generation.

I’m sorry that the above sounds paternalistic on my part. Actually, I’m not. An entire generation of artists raised on the internet shouldn’t need instruction on how image transference and re-purposing works: You created this free-for-all; please stop complaining when you occasionally fall down and get a boo-boo in your own bouncy castle.

Of course, I am referring to two recent art “outrages,” one involving Richard Prince and his re-purposing of images created by, among others, the for-profit pin-up site Suicide Girls; and another upset attributed to an alleged follower of Prince, who re-purposed the work of two emerging queer feminist photographers.

I rather doubt the Prince works would have received a tenth of the press they did (and that I am giving them now) had it not been for the (delayed) reaction by some of the artists and models featured in the show. Prince skimmed through his Instagram feed, picked some photos of women he found attractive (a sadly predictable lot of rather traditional sexpot images), and blew up the scans. He first showed these blow-ups at Gagosian Gallery over a year ago, and nobody cared. Then the works started selling at the Frieze Art Fair New York for around 100K, and suddenly everybody cared. A vacuous collection of casual gestures by an over-rewarded artist, a series of works that ought to have been yawned into oblivion, became a cause celebre.

Read the full article here.

 

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Summer Reading

Summer Reading – Where Are the Women of Color in New Media Art?

Today we continue our Summer Reading series with an article from our friends at Hyperallergic. Author Ben Valentine worked with writer/curator Dorothy Santos to send a questionnaire to women of color (WOC) and queer or trans women of color, and the responses were included in “Where Are the Women of Color in New Media Art?” This article was originally published on April 7, 2015. 

Screenshot from Morehshin Allahyari’s “The 3D Additivist Manifesto” (2015), a collaboration with Daniel Rourke.

Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke. The 3D Additivist Manifesto, 2015 (screenshot).

Not long ago I wrote an article celebrating the work being done by cyberfeminist collective Deep Lab. In a post-Snowden world that’s seen few legal or structural changes since the first leaks, and one that’s filled with male-dominated tech conferences that sound more like advertising than critical discussion, I still consider Deep Lab’s work to be invaluable.

However, after the piece was published, Dorothy Santos—a writer, curator, and friend who’s currently organizing an exhibition on privacy and surveillance and their relationship to gentrification in the Bay Area—wrote to me to express concerns about the lack of women of color (WOC) and queer or trans women of color (QTWOC) artists in Deep Lab. She questioned why I didn’t discuss that lack of representation in my article.

With Santos’ encouragement, I decided it would be valuable to do a follow-up piece and include perspectives from WOC and QTWOC artists and writers regarding Deep Lab, new media and technology-based art, and representation. We emailed a small questionnaire to twenty such women. Seven responded, and their comments are featured below along with Santos’ own answers. We encourage any WOC/QTWOC readers to comment on this article or email to share your perspectives. As Deep Lab continues its work in 2015, with exciting partnerships with the MIT Media Laboratory and NEW INC, we hope these voices will be taken into account.

Read the full article here.

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Summer Reading

Summer Reading – Nothing That Meets the Eye: Notes on Clones

Today we kick off our annual Summer Reading series, in which our writers and editors select their favorite recent articles on contemporary art from around the web. First up is an excerpt from Matt Sussman’s “Nothing That Meets the Eye: Notes on Clones,” originally published on SFMOMA’s Open Space on June 3, 2015. In this essay, Sussman considers the culture of reproduction and copies within the context of Hal Fischer’s Gay Semiotics photography project.

Hal Fischer. Street Fashion Basic Gay from the series Gay Semiotics, 1977/2014; Carbon pigment print, 20 x 16 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Ratio 3.

Hal Fischer. Street Fashion Basic Gay from the series Gay Semiotics, 1977/2014; carbon pigment print; 20 x 16 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Ratio 3.

“Taste has no system and no proofs,” writes Susan Sontag at the outset of “Notes on Camp” (1964). “Any sensibility which can be crammed into the mold of a system, or handled with the rough tools of proof, is no longer a sensibility at all. It has hardened into an idea…”

Part of what I am interested in tracing across this series is what happens after sensibilities harden into ideas, or into something else. What Sontag warns against is essentially a process of replication: The “mold of a system” is there to transform one kind of matter into the likeness of something else entirely. When ideas (or, say, a particular work of art) are repeated across different forms and mediums, those repetitions, in turn, produce their own kinds of effects, both spectacular and lackluster. The extent to which what has been re-presented is recognizable as iterative, or recognizable at all (“this looks like a/an X”), also arouses mixed feelings. As many after Freud have observed, things that come back or reappear can be unsettling precisely because they are familiar, close to home.

The man in the photograph appears to be in his late twenties or early thirties. His mustache is bushy enough to make it hard to pinpoint his age, but not so overgrown as to obscure a sweet smile. His Levis, like the rolled-up sleeves of his flannel shirt and his unzipped hoodie, are relaxed; fitted but not too revealing. He leans against a wall, the sharply angled sidewalk beneath his black Converse forcing the rest of him into a kind of lazy contrapposto that is simultaneously sexy and goofy.

He is—as the white, all-caps text in the lower bottom left of the photograph states—an exemplar of “BASIC GAY” street style circa 1977. That’s the year when San Francisco artist Hal Fischer created the image as part of his Gay Semiotics photography project, currently on view again in San Francisco, at Ratio 3, after nearly forty years. The man’s clothing and grooming, as the composite of image and text dictates, make him an identifiable type among other types and in regard to other men who look like him. He could be called, using the parlance of the time, a clone.

Read the full article here.

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Shotgun Reviews

Vic at Insitu Berlin

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Carla Fernández reviews the group show Vic at Insitu Berlin.

Aurora Sander. Trust no one, 2015; Mixed media, variable dimensions. Courtesy of the Artist and insitu Berlin. Photo: Markus Georg

Aurora Sander. Trust no one, 2015; Mixed media, variable dimensions. Courtesy of the Artist and insitu Berlin. Photo: Markus Georg

The group show Vic at Insitu Berlin presents a fictional persona whose effect on viewers oscillates between seduction and repulsion—a hedonist, narcissistic character of internet culture. Artists Britta Thie, Christian Falsnaes, and the collective Aurora Sander construct Vic’s ego out of metadata and self-referential information, asserting a ritualized self united through the repetition of data and virtual, not actual, relations with the world.

The first room contains motivational YouTube videos, books, and films focused on self-enhancement and manipulation. Stammtisch (2015), an installation by the collective duo Aurora Sander (Bror Sander Berg Størseth and Ellinor Aurora Aasgaard), contains anthropomorphized sculptures and props: traces of toast and a beer glass posed over a table with traces of blue and pink paint. The effect is an absurd situation of absence. In Christian Falsnaes’ video work Influence (2012), the artist performs the seduction of a group and the group’s subsequent compulsive dementia.

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