Archive for May 2010
While stumbling through the internet and Twitter looking for any art related podcasts, I found Art Tactic.com. As far as I can tell (because I don’t and have no reason to subscribe to any of their services), Art Tactic is a website that addresses art solely as a market commodity. This is the focus of their podcast, but occasionally extra-market (i.e. aesthetic) judgments sneak in, and they can be interesting for what they reveal about a large audience for art that is either disparaged outright or otherwise ignored in most discourse.
Richard Polsky, author of I Bought Andy Warhol and the follow up I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon), had an interesting recent turn. While addressing Damien Hirst’s market he also noted that many collectors value artists who can make their own work. This was actually nice to hear, even if he allowed for Koons and Murakami as caveats. He also commented on Richard Prince’s reputation, who was seen as “a second tier artist” to Salle, Schnable, and Fiscl, and as an artist who was “clever, not good” and is still “not a great artist.” The more current assessment seems to be shared by the New York Times’ Ken Johnson, but I would still always rather see his work than that of his Neo-Expressionist compatriots.
Mr. Polsky’s most interesting stand comes when he declares that collectors should buy with their eyes, not their ears. He makes many of his market judgments (writing on Artnet.com and his own blog) based on what he sees in the work, and on Art Tactic he states that one of my own favorite artists, Christopher Wool, will be “the new hype.” He compares Wool to Edward Ruscha, who “used language before Wool and used it better”, noting that if Wool got five million dollars at auction, what must Ruscha be worth?
It feels like a silly comparison and strawman; Polsky states elsewhere that his dealing interests remain the pop artists, who I envision as crossing the street so as not to get mugged by Wool. Both artists do much more than just work with language (I’m a big Ruscha fan as well), and as a artist who is slowly working text and language into his paintings I shudder to see a first/ best dictum applied to any particular subject matter. It doesn’t seem accurate to the art market and it ignores issues of both context and concept that are germane to the discussion. More importantly it raises the issue of how connoisseurship can easily be confused with personal taste. Asking people to look more, even at representations of the language they see every day, is asking them to bring their own personal interpretations and interpretations to bear on the art they see, and those of us who make, look at, and think about art should probably allow for different interpretations than we might expect.
Two of the best painting shows up in Chelsea right now are Amy Sillman: Transformer (or how many light bulbs does it take to change a painting?) and Charline von Heyl at Friedrich Petzel. Both artists are essentially working within the idiom of “abstract painting”, but both have figurative forms and references moving through these canvases as they search for meaning. The difference is in which direction those bodies are moving.
Amy Sillman’s large paintings feel more resolved, as if she’s arrived at a place that allows for a definitive statement. Parts of her previous figures are reemerging from gestural drawing and vivid color, aiming cartoon flashlights to help them find their way out the gorgeous wilderness Ms. Sillman has painted them into. Painting them out may be akin to a rescue, but contrary to a search in the wilderness I think the more space Ms. Sillman has to work with the better. Her large scale paintings allow her gestures and forms to get large and really move around the entire canvas without clogging the pictoral space. As she restricts the area available to her the paintings sacrifice clarity, as if we’re losing a sense of a larger whole by zooming our magnifaction in on a detail. In this sense a few very small paintings presented give us the least, and are akin to looking at only one or two pixels.
Where Ms. Sillman has a more noticeable style, Charline von Heyl takes the idea of searching for a new image to the extreme where the idea of individual style breaks down; indeed it can be easy to miss her search in the artworld’s tidal cacophony. I know her work more through its inclusion in recent tomes on abstract painting, such as Robert Nickas’s. Those paintings, even in reproduction, show an artist playing with the language of abstraction in each painting, taking it apart and seeing just how far it can be prodded, pushed, and stretched. Here there are passages evoking things that emerge from her gestures, stains, and patterns. Black Stripe Mojo has a cascade of forms that evoke livestock against a striped ground, a James Bond pin-up pushes through a pattern of diamonds in Woman # 2. Some forms are more concrete than others, but each is ultimately at the service of Ms. Heyl’s investigation. She sets her boundaries at the level of individual paintings, whereas Ms. Sillman’s carry over through her entire exhibition. It is the difference from canvas to canvas that lets Ms. Heyl trade the definitive statement for the energy of the search.