Brian Dupont: Artist's Texts

An artist's writings on art.

Posts Tagged ‘Brackets

My List

As the little tempest in a teacup that is some artists on Twitter finding Modern Art Notes Tyler Green’s Art Madness Bracket rather light on works of the post-war art that wasn’t produced by white males, noted art writer Sharon Butler solicited alternative lists that were published on her Two Coats of Paint blog. I submitted my own list as did several other artists, writers, and critics. I found the entire exercise to be very interesting; looking at the other lists I had quite a few “Oh, how could I leave that work off?” moments. In other cases it allowed me to gain a slightly more subtle understanding of another artists own work, development, and interests. I found drawing up my own list to be fairly eye opening; some artists that I hadn’t consciously thought about for awhile wound up having a lot of pieces on my first draft (that I had to cut 3 Bruce Nauman works was a surprise). In other cases I found that artists that were important to me didn’t have a singular work or even series that stood out in proportion to their overall career (or against the other works I listed).

In the end I approached my list as I think the individual writers who rank baseball prospects do. It has to be considered a snapshot of what I think right now, it is not the same list I would’ve produced a year ago and may change even in the near future. It also almost certainly contains a bias towards works that have influenced me in the past and work that I look at and consider in relation to what’s going on in my own studio now. I think this was a consideration for all of the artists who participated. As one of my primary issues with Mr. Green’s list is that focusing on individual masterpieces was one of the systematic biases that lead to so few women making the list, I made much broader allowances than he or his co-jurors did.

1. Pollock Number 32
2. Judd 100 works in milled aluminum
3. Ellsworth Kelly La Combe
4. Joseph Beuys Arena
5. Smithson Spiral Jetty
6. Gordon Matta-Clarke  Splitting
7. DeKooning   Excavation
8. Frank Stella   The Marriage of Reason and Squalor
9. Cindy Sherman   Untitled Film Stills *
10. Judd  Untitled 1962
11. Serra  Belts
12. Nauman  South American Triangle
13. Roni Horn   Paired Mats – for Ross and Felix
14. Terry Winters  Good Government
15. Brice Marden  The Grove Group *
16. Gober  Silly Sink
17. Richter  October 18th *
18. Christopher Wool  Apocalypse Now
19. Glen Ligon  Untitled (Text paintings) *
20. Paul Thek Technological Reliquaries *
21. Matthew Barney  Cremaster 3
22. Eva Hesse  Untitled 1970
23. Catherine Opie  Untitled (Icehouse series) *
24. Blinky Palermo  To the people of NYC
25. L. Bourgeois  Spider 1997
26. Felix Gonzalez Torres  Untitled (Perfect Lovers)
27. Nauman  Corrider Installation (Nick Wilder Installation)
28. Flavin  Untitled (Marfa Project) 1996
29. Barry LeVa  Continuous and Related Activities
30. Maya Lin  Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial
31. Julie Meheretu  Goldman Sachs Mural
32. Wade Guyton Untitled 1997 *(kind of)

Works marked with an asterisk point to series or bodies of work that are so closely related that I think pulling out a single work is beside the point.

My last changes were removing Martin Puryear’s Bask in favor of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial and cutting Moria Dryer’s Random Fire. The works that just missed were Ana Mendieta’s Silueta Series, Rachel Whiteread’s House, Bruce Conner’s A Movie, Robert Frank’s The Americans, Christian Marclay’s Video Quartet, and Mark Bradford’s Scorched Earth. Clearly some of these works will be seen by others as more deserving, or “better”, but the point is that they just aren’t to me. I’m not arguing that Wade Guyton’s Untitled is of greater historical importance than Frank’s masterpiece, but The Americans doesn’t hold any interest for me or my practice. On the other hand I still find myself referring back to that painting of an “X” that was run through a big Epson printer, and thinking about how it has changed how I approach ideas of text and touch in my own painting. Similarly, early on I toyed with the idea of adding John Beech’s Make in the last spot on the list. I wanted the end to point towards a new work that had recently affected me and caused me to reconsider a broad swath of the art I was seeing around me every day.

At the top I still have Pollock and Judd. I wanted to put Judd’s Chinati Foundation (the entire Foundation and everything in it) ahead of even Pollock, but that wouldn’t really have been in the spirit of the list or the response to Mr. Green. As it stands, Pollock’s drip paintings in total represent a great deal to contemporary art, and I think one of the major differences between post-war European and American art turns on the different spaces in painting and process he opened up with these works. I can oscillate between Number 32 and Autumn Rhythm, but I prefer the stark graphic quality of the uncorrected black enamel on cotton duck. That it all starts with drawing appeals to me.

It has also been interesting to hear suggestions to what we missed. John Powers noted that Jay DeFeo’s The Rose was left off everyone’s lists. (If women are denied the admission of genius that would “let them produce a singular masterpiece, she’s an excellent example of an opposite bias – she produced that single masterpiece, but is otherwise not considered for not having a more level career.) John Morris pointed out that I missed any reference to street art, and that Henry Darger perhaps should have been listed. I’ll speak to street art at another time, but Darger would’ve presented an interesting case. My own list is remarkably light on figuration (even in the photography), and Darger also raises the issue of “outsider” art. It’s a different angle, and one I don’t have an answer to, but considering everything from his opus as a single work would turn notions of art’s canon on it’s head.

Obviously I’m completely missing Johns, Rauschenberg, Rothko, Guston, Barnet Newman , and Warhol. This exercise has me reconsidering John’s White Flag. (I still think the Ballantine Ale Cans are a fairly lame joke, however.) With the others, I still just don’t come back to them anymore. I think all of these artists produced great works, and they’re works that I love, but they’re not something I relate to day to day anymore. John Powers has written an excellent repudiation of the concept of the masterpiece itself in response to the uproar. Looking over the lists the other artists provided, I think that may point to where artists are going to take art. Less masterpieces and more work is more democratic after all. If more voices is deemed a good thing then maybe shouting down the masterpiece is a good use of breath.

Written by Brian Dupont

March 25, 2011 at 7:42 am

Bracketology

Although I am not a basketball fan, the NCAA tournament has always represented the turning point where winter turns to spring. I have no interest in March Madness or associated workplace gambling; my sport is baseball and the annoyance posed by my co-workers trying to get me to go in on the office pool really only means that opening day is around the corner…

This is the second year Tyler Green has given his readers a set of brackets ostensibly for the art world. Last year he pitted the America’s abstract painters against one another (Cy Twombly beat out Ellsworth Kelly for the crown), but this year’s version is a bit more problematic. He aims to present a tournament of the greatest post-war works of art, but has instead managed to expose just how ingrained some of the systematic biases that haunt art and its attendant institutions can be.

Looking at his selection of 64 works of art, you’ll find only 3 works by women: Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm 0, and Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial. On the other hand, most of the (very) old white males of the art historical canon are represented multiple times. Ruscha, Serra, and Judd are found twice; Richter three times; Johns, Rauschenberg, DeKooning, Pollock, and Barnet Newman four times; and, perhaps fittingly for this kind of popularity contest, Warhol leads the pack with five works. That’s more than half the total bracket represented by only 10 (white) men.

Mr. Green did not generate the list of works himself; he amalgamated a seeding selection from five guests (two of whom were women) to get the final brackets, but the process is his, and despite facing complaints from myself and others (on Twitter) he has chosen to defend these results as given by the process he set up. I have suggested (in an exchange on Twitter) that such results may point to a flawed process and that as the organizer he could have made some changes, but his response was “Why on earth would I presume I’m so smart I should overrule the five other (distinguished) people I invited to contribute?”

An exercise of this sort, intended to be lighthearted and in good fun, is bound to contain most of the works that populate the very end of a mammoth art history textbook. The broad outlines and movements of post-war and contemporary art will be illustrated with a few key works, as space allows. If women and minorities are not well represented, whose fault is that? The makers of the list only picked personal favorites and had them compiled after all. If Joan Snyder, Helen Frankenthaler, Eva Hesse, Lee Bontecou, Ana Mendita, Anne Truitt, Agnes Martin, Lee Krasner, Lynda Benglis, Carolee Schneemann, Judy Chicago, Howardina Pindell, Elizabeth Murray, Dorthea Rockburn, Mona Hatoum, Yayoi Kusama, or Louise Bourgeios (to name just a few of the notables from the same time period as most of the works on the list off the top of my head) weren’t the favorites of these critics and curators, why is that necessarily a problem within the context of this harmless little game?

The answer is that because Mr. Green’s game has managed to illustrate quite succinctly how easy it is to exclude women and minorities and still have everyone involved remain blameless. Whether it be a small lark of a bracket or the larger art world, it is too easy to point at a system or process as an excuse without actually examining who set up the system or how. It may be “just a game”, but games allow us to distill and process some of life’s messier and complex interactions into a simpler form that is more comprehensible for its abstraction. In short, they make it easier to see what is fair, and I think it becomes very clear that the system as devised is not (either in the brackets or the art world).

At least in the case Art Maddness II, the problems are easier to identify and fix. Looking at the list I think it is evident that there are shifting evaluations based on lax guidelines. If it makes sense to consider Cindy Sherman’s entire Untitled Film Still series and Gerhard Richter’s Baader-Meinhof paintings as a single entity, why does Jasper Johns need three different flags? Is Three Flags really that different from Flag? Similarly, how different are the DeKooning Women or any of the Newman zip paintings? Is the point to consider groundbreaking work or major statements? Isn’t Vir Heroicus Sublimis so closely related to Onement I that context that they can be discussed in the same breadth? Pollock’s individual drip paintings are different enough, but isn’t their scope related to the collective breakthrough they represent?

Lest I be accused of not presenting an alternative, I find that I only need to look at another rite of spring, one that relates to my own sporting interest and would not require any great investment to change. Every spring Baseball America ranks the top 100 prospects in baseball’s minor leagues. It is every bit as contentious as any other interested battle of minutiae, and their process is remarkably similar to Mr. Green’s. Each of their writing staff compiles a list of their opinion of the top prospects, and the results are compiled in a spreadsheet. However instead of that being the end of it and having the final list generated by having Jim Callis hit ‘print’, the writers get together to look at the raw results and debate and argue for them. They curate the list, revising and reconsidering so that there is, if not consensus, then at least a sense that the biases and idiosyncrasies that arise from such a small sampling of opinion can be removed and that the final list is stronger. Mr. Green could have had a simple conference call with Michael Auping, Kristen Hileman, Dominic Molon, Ed Schad, and Katy Siegel to see where duplicate works that present the same idea could be reconciled, and to see what deserving works that may have been left off could take the place of the duplicate.

To be inclusive may have been a bit more work, but it is disappointing that a writer who purports to hold himself to high standards and certainly holds others to similar account did not make the effort. The tournament hosted by Modern Art Notes is a small offense, but the reason to speak out against such minor infractions is to hold the larger system to account. That “it’s just a game” shouldn’t be an excuse if we don’t want “it’s just art” to be a similar refrain.

Written by Brian Dupont

March 22, 2011 at 8:56 am

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