Brian Dupont: Artist's Texts

An artist's writings on art.

Posts Tagged ‘William Gibson

Out of Time (Part 1): ‘Forever Now’ and the New Landscape of Painting.

Painting has had it rough lately, it’s as if constantly dying and being reborn has really taken something out of the medium. For better or worse it has been yoked to the very definition and expectations of what art is, and painters have become accountable not only on formal but also economic grounds. Hatred of “Provisionalism[1] has given way to similar reactions about “Zombie Formalism[2] where a good deal of the criticism hinges not on the work but on how it is being made and just who is buying it. The new crisis of criticism in contemporary painting hinges on just how slippery the medium is and how its relations to the constantly shifting ground of the art worlds[3] have been exposed.

Forever Now, MoMA’s first new painting survey in 30 years, gives critics a good deal to try and grab on to.[4] From the beginning the show stakes a claim on the key feature of our time being an internet derived “atemporality”[5], with information easily accessible with a few clicks leading to a deluge of historical reference that can effectively remove art from historical place. However, the hip nod to William Gibson[6] and the technological present disguises the broader import of the show; in mapping out a space for painting where the entire wealth of history and aesthetic investigation is open (and constantly re-opened) to use[7] curator Laura Hoptman has marked our present circumstances as unequivocally Postmodern. A better pop cultural reference would be Morpheus stepping back to reveal the desert of the real to Neo[8] at the beginning of “The Matrix.” Coming from the gleaming skyscrapers and clear blue skies of high modernism, the scorched earth and sky of the truth of reality is a foreboding sight. It would seem a landscape of exhausted strategies and unintended consequences where survival will take more work than before, but it also allows for broader interactions and a greater degree of possibility.[9]

For artists this desert is terrain where the hierarchies of how to make art and what to make it out of don’t apply. Freed from the need to worry about pushing forward[10] or heralding an agenda, the artist may make what they want out of whatever material will mesh with their formal, conceptual, political, or aesthetic ends. Simply making something “new”[11] is too transient a glory and no longer laudable; the novelty of invention wears off too quickly and everyone’s sources are easily discovered.[12] This end of progress is also the end of avant garde; one can’t be at the forefront of a movement if there is no front, or if looking backward in reflection can’t be labeled as merely retrograde. This is ultimately disorienting for all involved as the criticism of any given work requires a careful approach on its own terms. The old signposts aren’t necessarily relevant, and the headstrong critic will find themselves revealing more about their own bias than the work’s. Likewise the artist must be acutely aware of what s/he stands for, and how they relate to the shifting context that surrounds their work lest they loose control of it. The lack of supposed progress raises the stakes because responsibility falls on the individual, it can’t be easily deflected to a group or movement. This is the cost of the freedom wished for by artists in bygone eras.[13]

Once we accept that atemporatlity is synonymous with Postmodernism[14] it can bee seen as a crutch to lay responsibility at the feet of the internet. Digital technologies have rapidly increased the flow of information, but Postmodernism predates widespread integration of digital networks into the fabric of our culture.[15] The first Postmodernists were analog artists, researching in libraries and archives, and collating physical objects, artifacts, and documents into their work. The inherent speed of all art was the same, but if painting has been slow to accept and accelerate into the new terrain of Postmodernism it is because it is a medium of material and individual gesture it does not lend itself to quick dissemination.[16] Painters are figuring out how to integrate the history of their medium into a continuum that more recent, easily digitized media were born into; but as those media aspire to the status and economic benefits enjoyed by painting more possibilities are opened as the boundaries blur.[17] Postmodern painters are finding their way; the work on view in Forever Now, or any other show of painting being made today, should not be seen as an example of living in the wreckage, but the slow start of a new beginning, of building a new frontier.

 

The essay continues in Part 2 and Part 3.

 

 

[1] Or “crapstraction” if you’re being kind of rude about it while simultaneously trying to come up with something punchy. This isn’t a label that one would apply if you were also to admit to liking some examples of the work under discussion.

[2] A term coined by Martin Mugar and subsequently introduced to mass appeal by Walter Robinson.

[3] I subscribe to a “many worlds” view of the art world as a way to simplify our understanding of something that is otherwise too complex to entertain. In short individual interactions overlap with geography and economies so that upon a microscopic view the connections and networks form webs that are too dense to separate, but upon pulling back to an extreme macro view the interactions separate into clusters of mass. How these clusters relate to influence and wealth, and just how shared they are is probably what is leading to a certain amount of critical disgust with painting overall.

[4] My favorite being Jason Farago’s review in the Guardian.

[5] Quoted from the wall text at the beginning of the exhibition.

[6] The reference to William Gibson seems more like trendy name dropping than anything else

[7] With that use swinging between stewardship and strip-mining.

[8] A wide-eyed and well groomed protagonist fresh out of art school with his MFA if ever there was one.

[9] You just have to look out for the giant killer robots, which we’ll discuss in part three.

[10] And presumably continuing the modernist drive towards some sort of purity.

[11] A value that nevertheless seems to be widely mourned in the reviews of the exhibition. See Peter Schjeldal in the New Yorker, among others.

[12] If not advertised as loudly as possible.

[13] In technical parlance, these circumstances aren’t a bug, they’re a feature.

[14] Taking the red pill as it were.

[15] I take my historical cues from Danto, and put the emergence of Postmodernism with Warhol’s Brillo boxes.

[16] An image of the painting can be shared easily enough, but it is different from an actual painting; the materials must still be reckoned with in a way that is not required to simply print a digital file.

[17] The specter of the monetary advantage that rides on the definition remains sobering; the economic implications of tearing down boundary walls and opening up art’s discourse is the ground that will pit the upper reaches of the art market against it’s broader population.

Written by Brian Dupont

December 30, 2014 at 12:08 am

Future Maps for these Territories

 

The New Year’s holiday inevitably brings about remembrances and prognostications. 2011 saw me celebrate a decade in the same studio, and as I sat around looking at works in progress and planning for the New Year (figuring out new works, and considering the more daunting task of trying to resolve what’s already been started, discarded, or just left sitting around) I was also considering my New Year’s day trip to the art openings in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I started thinking more and more about the (very) long-term affects of changing economic conditions, and how the seemingly continual search for space affects artists, and where that search may lead.

In a year that saw the birth and subsequent suppression of the Occupy movement focus attention on corporate machinations, it is hard not consider the footprint of corporate interests in finance, real estate, and art when considering any such potential future. The early fiction of William Gibson seems to particularly apply, with his simultaneous exploration of the corporation as quasi-governmental power[1] and interest in art and design. Any attempt at articulating a future will be more a snapshot of the author’s present[2] more than the future[3], but Gibson’s Sprawl fiction[4] presents a future for art that is in some sense already here.  Artists are measured in a stock market-like system of fluctuating points, up and down. The actual works of art are purchased by reproduction[5], and then safely crated away in secure storage, possibly never to be seen before being resold. Scholarship is privatized as well[6], with the heads of the new oligarchies serving as patrons (and also demanding favors) in a model reminiscent of the medieval kings. His setting for the market of the art world is likewise eerily prescient. Marly Krushkova[7], the disgraced owner of small gallery for emerging[8] art contrasts with Picard, the international gallery manager who treats art as any broker would their preferred commodity. Setting aside motivation, the contrast between the power and wealth available in the realm of the blue chip as compared to those working from purer motives is stark.

By comparison his artists Slick Henry[9], Rubin Stark[10], and the artificial intelligence discovered at the end of Count Zero[11] are represented in a romanticized fashion that make them seem more outsiders than careered artists. Their creative drive is an unsullied internal need. (Only Stark has representation, and fully engages the market for his creations. In this sense he actually comes the closest of the three to representing a successful artist working within today’s art world.[12]) Aside from their collage based practice and their affinity for cast off materials, these characters share an affinity for living and working in repurposed industrial spaces. These are a future version of the light-industrial lofts that became the new model for the artist’s studio in the Post-war art world.

Whether the size of these new spaces allowed or caused artist to dramatically change the scale of their work[13], what is evident is that the work produced in these spaces is peculiarly of these spaces:  just as the scale and materials of pre-war modernism seem particularly suited to a Parisian garret, the paintings of the New Yorks school swelled to match the space available in an urban center with a surplus of raw, light-industrial space. Contemporary art has seen the loft space institutionalized as grad studios in MFA programs and this as affected how the art is made. Construction is an ad-hoc affair with considerations of craft in construction[14] giving way to a direct and immediate engagement with the work that assumes that problems of logistics, transport, and storage can be solved after the fact. Artists will be keenly aware of their own space, and often build work that just fits in or out the door by a matter of inches, but these measurements are unlikely to consider future doors in different neighborhoods that the work may need to get in.[15]

I’ve always considered the migrations[16] of artists in New York to react like quicksilver to pressures relating to the cost of space.  Artists[17] form the leading edge of gentrification in the city, following the arteries of transportation through to under-used (or under-capitalized) light industrial spaces that could be taken over for idiosyncratic ends. The post-war bohemia of Greenwich Village was pushed into Soho and from there into (generally) Tribeca and lower Manhattan and out to Dumbo and through to harder to access areas like Red Hook or the Navy Yards. Another tack flowed to the East, from Village and out into Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Long Island City and into Bushwick.[18] It appears that artists are following the subway lines to anywhere there is cheap space, which was usually “the next stop out” from a popular neighborhood. Established residential neighborhoods formed a natural bulwark to an influx of artists, providing the rents were high enough. If the neighborhood tended to be lower income, or zoned for mixed-use, it was only a matter of the next financial boom until the indigenous residents who didn’t own found themselves forced out, soon to be followed by the artists who couldn’t afford the rising rents. Leaving aside the contemporary socio-economic implications and looking to the future, what sort of changes and evolutions can we expect in art and the art world as economic pressures continue to exacerbate the problem of a finite amount of urban space?

Gibson’s artists find themselves in extremely out of the way locations[19], but are able to interface with culture and patrons virtually via technology. Presently artists still feel the need to gather[20], but space is becoming more and more limited and the influx of new, young artists into the same limited, urban territory will eventually subject the makers of objects to evolutionary pressures that will affect where and how art is made. Artists never left working in their apartments, and post-studio and conceptual practices may become increasingly popular urban practices to accompany works at a more modest scale.[21] Another avenue would be a longer, more desperate migration that can be observed in other species struggling with dwindling local resources. Other smaller urban areas connected by similar transit options are one option[22], yet will face the same pressures from outside industries. These factors will only increase as rural populations contract, but with a retreat to urban centers new spaces will open to colonization by artists. Strip malls and abandoned big box stores of the twenty-first century will present similar floor plans possibilities to their light industry counterparts of the twentieth century. With a proliferation of mobile connectivity and social media artists will be able to take advantage of cheap real estate as working space trumps the ability to grab a drink or quick meal with a fellow artist.

Looking back on the crowds that crammed into Norte Maar or spilled out onto the sidewalk in front of Storefront on New Year’s Day, the implication (or threat) to artists is probably greater to the underrated social community that surrounds long hours alone in the studio rather than any specific need for space; after all artists will still find a way to make things under the most pressing limitations. Nevertheless I can already envision a future version of Loren Munk, traveling so far that he’s nomadic and without time to paint, his work documented digitally via GPS and JPEG like a cyberpunk Richard Long, trekking out to and mapping the remains of a Walmart that was once home and studio of a now famous artist…until he or she was priced out and now the space is occupied by a bohemian descendant of Sam Walton. Even in the future, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

 


[1] Gibson’s future is the ultimate in corporate privatization, with national governments collapsed and corporate conglomerates wielding their own private armies. Nevertheless there must be some organizing and mediating principle, as evidenced by the wild global urban infrastructure his characters must navigate.

[2] Gibson acknowledges as much, writing that “Nothing acquires quite as rapid or peculiar a patina of age as an imaginary future” in the introduction to Burning Chrome.

[3] The Sprawl trilogy seems rather light on smartphones, and the graphics available to his cyberpunks and the animations that represent the web belong more to Atari than one where the imaging of Avatar is out of date. In this regard Neal Stephenson grafted the appropriate bandwidth onto Gibson’s corporate future in his novel Snow Crash.

[4] The novels Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, and the stories collected in Burning Chrome.

[5] Gibson’s holograms are a sexier antecedent to today’s JPEGS.

[6] In the future of the sprawl there seems little room for museums, and I imagine that community outreach programs were cut when the government fell.

[7] In Count Zero.

[8] In Gibson’s world, this means dealing with original works, presumably by living artists. There is little money in it, unless one gets extremely lucky, but there is the visceral, direct appeal.

[9] In Mona Lisa Overdrive.

[10] In ‘The Winter Market’, included in the Burning Chrome collection of stories.

[11] Spoiler alert.

[12] Although his work and character seems like a precursor to Slick Henry, as if the more career savvy artist had to be tamed to get along with his new neighbors and relations in the subsequent novel. Also of interest is that he has an agent, and not specifically gallery representation.

[13] Like any other nature vs. nurture argument the answer is probably “a bit of both.”

[14] Speaking generally, and certainly not of larger projects fabricated with the aid of specialized technicians, who generally need to have their shit straight to survive working with artists…

[15] This is a benefit to the much maligned practice of art going directly into storage after it is bought. Artists are at least free to make anything, and sell it, without worrying about where it is going to fit. In my experience far fewer collectors have huge garage-style roll  up doors into their residences than you might think.

[16] Or, if you prefer, relocations. The constant movement of artists has a whiff of refugee movements about it, in a distinctly first-world way of course.

[17] In this case, young or emerging artists working to establish themselves. Older artists who have consolidated their position within the art world will probably have similarly consolidated their position in real estate. Likewise they are more likely to have family commitments that keep them from the young person’s game of pioneering.

[18] And of course some also headed West to New Jersey or North into the Harlem and the Bronx, and individual outposts or colonies thrive almost everywhere, but migrations are a matter of populations, not individuals. Chelsea remains an interesting outlier as artists have been there since at least the 1940’s or 50’s (deKooning had a studio there for awhile), but despite its proximity to Greenwich Village* it has never really had a status as an “art neighborhood” until the galleries moved in. If some future historian is looking to pinpoint where capital and galleries bifurcated away from artists, this is probably the point.

* Despite the rallying cry of the time, artists did head above 14th Street. Hipsters are notoriously unreliable that way, and of course there wasn’t an art museum that far south anyway.

[19] Low Earth orbit, or New Jersey.

[20] Following the split noted between the populations of artists and galleries in #18, it is interesting to note that galleries are exhibiting the same behavior, just within their own “species”, rather than with artists.

[21] Mira Schor’s call for an new intimate art may become a reality in light of working and exhibition space reducing (which can be seen a bit in smaller spaces on the Lower East-side downsizing from the blue chip Chelsea hangar). See “Modest Painting” in “A Decade of Negative Thinking: Essays on Art, Politics, and Daily Life.”

[22] Potentially leading to a version of Gibson’s Boston – Atlanta Metropolitan Axis.

Written by Brian Dupont

January 10, 2012 at 12:27 pm