Critical Dialog in the Visual Arts
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Moderator: Sheri L. Pasquerella, director of Gorney Bravin + Lee Gallery
and NADA president|
Panelists: Zach Miner, co-founder of NADA and independent curator
Lia Ganglitano, director/founder of Participant Inc., a Lower East Side not-for-profit
Alex Kwartler, artist
SP Basically there are essentially two goals of the New Art Dealers Alliance: One is to promote the young art dealers and to work together collectively to gain access to resources that we may not have as individuals. . . .
The second major cause of our organization is to continue the promotion and the awareness of younger artists. And that is the reason that tonight's event is important and fun for us because it gives us another opportunity to promote the work of young artists and to bring awareness to others who may not have the opportunity to see it. . . .
Zach Miner . . . is also a co-founder of the New Art Dealers Alliance. He was the first person that took me seriously when I had the idea of NADA and to think that today we have members all over the world; we had over 300 applications for an art fair that we have in Miami that holds 60 booths.
ZM I think was one of the biggest issues was that we saw there was so much needless competition, largely. It seemed that everybody was rushing, rushing, rushing to do something, was trying to outdo one another and we felt that it was really a model that was based on some kind of 1980s Wall Street kind of mentality and we thought that we could bring in some kind of other spirit, something that wasn't taking away the marketplace and the vibrancy of that and not denying the fact that art is a commodity in this time but also trying to add something else. A little bit of a Utopian idea in it in trying to think a little bit about making it a softer and less harsh of a climate out there. . . .
AK I mentioned Claude Lorrain earlier and I like to use him as an example of a Romantic artist who used the landscape really beautifully as an allegorical tool, and as an artist who made images of invisible places, that were based strictly on observation, if that makes any sense. The picturesque which a lot of these paintings have to deal with, like the camera, or the computer, for that matter really, locate the viewer at the center of a very narrow and refined visual experience and that experience, in this case, never really exists, or never really existed. It's a complete fabrication, and while I'm talking about the Romantics, it's funny, because I've always imagined them when I was in school, I always imagined the Romantics as these people who were in search for the "thing" this like indispensable one thing and they knew themselves that they never could find this thing but they did it anyway. And there's something nice and sad but really optimistic and beautiful about that pursuit and for Claude Lorrain, you know, I keep going back to him, and I imagine the impossibility of finding a place like that, the kind of fictionalization of place that comes out of trying to visualize something that doesn't exist led to a complete alienation of the viewer, meaning that the invisible acted against the viewing process. You know, it set up a boundary, but the persistence of the creation of the image is totally optimistic and this is what I really find so interesting about these paintings. There's a polarity and the polarity with that kind of work is between total cynicism and total optimism, and those kind of paintings insist very, very completely on optimism. Thank you. (Applause).
SP. . . we don't really know which work will be relevant five years from now, ten years from now. Quite frankly, you could have gone into all those galleries in the 80s and seen artists who were brilliant, who had great careers, and the fact of the matter is, a large majority of them, nobody remembers who they are today.
ZM Do you mind if I jump in here with this idea. Sheri's kind of talking about something that is really at the core of what a lot of young artists are working on today. This is the idea that art isn't necessarily for the ages. It is not necessarily for eternity. . . .Jerry Saltz, the critic for The Village Voice wrote an article a few months ago about what he referred to as "termite art." It's kind of a disparaging term that describes the way a lot of these young artists are working. It's a very myopic vision of the world but it's a very expansive vision as well. . . .
AK I don't know whether we are going to get into the termite vs. white elephant issue here but essentially I think since Manny Farber wrote that essay 40 years ago was that a lot of things have changed in terms of the market. I think what's happened now is that the polarity that he builds there that they can be mutually exclusive now. But they don't necessarily have to depend on one another as they did in the 60s so that the termite art isn't in direct conflict with the like European white rectangle is in opposition to the more conceptual 60s mentality. I think that the market--you know I am speaking more as an artist, these are the people who are more familiar with the market but I feel that a kind of place has been made in the market for that kind of work and in a sense it has been institutionalized in a way where it isn't as much of a termite as much as we'd like to think that it is.
SP That's very well said. There may be people unclear about either the termite theory or the white elephant and Manny Farber so I would like to return to those when we get to this section of examples of work that happen to be labeled as such. . . .
I have made five loose categories and they are: (1) Classical Formalism and the Narrative Structure; (2) Freudian or Psychic-Sexual art, I have another word for it which is sort of vulgar so if anybody doesn't like curses or vulgarity I will refrain from using it; Faux Folk Art. Do you want to know what I call it? Okay, I sometimes call it Matthew Barney Caca-ness because it's the idea of like somebody's like human shit and their own personal bodily functions becoming an art concept, an idea and I will come back to that idea later because it is somewhat negative. It can be brilliant and in my personal opinion, in the case of Matthew Barney, it is brilliant but I can't remember the last time I went to an MFA show when there wasn't one artist using this technique and it wasn't usually the best work in the MFA show. So, there you have my full thoughts.
But some of the work being made that I put in that category, in fact, most of what I have chosen to show you in the following slides is actually quite good and quite interesting and does something new in this area that actually, in frankness, and I can't get back to this, wasn't started by Matthew Barney. It starts historically with Dada art and surrealism and Fluxus art in the 70s and then in the work of Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley and West Coast conceptualists of the late 70s and 80s. Um, so while Matthew Barney is a very beautiful poster boy for this art, he's by no means the originator of it.
Following that is the (3) Termite theory of art. (4) Faux Folk art which is essentially the art by artists who have school degrees in most cases and (5) Neo-Sublime and Conceptual painting are a return to these concepts. . . .
There was in the early 90s--late 80s and early 90s a renewed interest in classical formalism and narrative structure in portraiture. This is best exemplified, maybe not best, but most notably work that you will be familiar with would be Jon Currin, Elizabeth Peyton, Lisa Yuskavitch, so on and so-forth. Again, there have been a number of younger artists who have been influenced in returning to the issue of formalism, the issue of the narrative, the issue of portraiture in painting, in looking for ways to make that narrative or that portrait study new and relevant. Many of these artists are directly influenced by either John Currin or Elizabeth Peyton. Others are not. Others are directly influenced by the history of painting itself. . . .
LG When you were talking before about certain key articles that dealt with this, there's a piece that Frederick Petzel wrote where he sort of talks about a little bit larger section of the art world, talking about art fairs and international biennales and kind of what's going on in New York in the galleries and I don't know if people have seen it but it was called, "Infantilism" and because he sort of addresses some of the same examples that Sheri's going to bring up, I just thought that I would mention that he really uses John Currin as an example of an artist who has really shown us what artist as celebrity really means. You know, he's a young guy who has had a retrospective, he's in Vogue magazine, so in some ways, I thought it would be kind of interesting to sort of set against what John Currin means to this discussion is one thing, but what he might mean in another discussion say about what it means to be a young artist, John Currin sets a bar which is almost completely unrealistic and because Elizabeth Peyton is sort of referenced in this category, I think that Peter Scheldahl's statement about her being the moral center of the Whitney Biennial, was one of the most discussed sentences. Heated debates happened over this sort of related to your discussion of people's feeling that the Biennial was too happy or too pretty or not political enough. Scheldahl really narrowed that even further by insinuating that anything about Elizabeth Peyton's work could be even thought about in terms of formality. I mean this is very heated terrain for most people who are, you know, looking at what these models really mean. Just throwing in sort of counterpoints because the examples are things that people talk about all the time.
ZM These artists we've just been looking at--this is obviously the return of traditional painting. It's the return to the figure and I think that Currin is a really important antecedent to a lot of these, although it may not seem that stylistically it may not seem the same on the surface, there is a sensibility that is being shared by these artists. . . .
ZM So all these artists are coming from a specific point in time and they have had a very specific relationship to politics and I think the way our academies operate here, these artists are academy trained and their is a real aversion to any politicalized art that has a didactic quality to it. We very much like our art to have open-ended questions. So I think the questions these artists are asking are important. Are they important enough? Are they pushing the boundaries enough? I don't know. I think that is up to us as an audience to describe.
AK There is a particular aversion to implicitly political artwork--that the didactic is really a bad word and that the work of the 80s is really taught with a level of a kind of condescension.
ZM By the work of the 80s do you mean a kind of "Pictures Generation?"
SP Do you mean like Julian Schnabel, Eric Fischl.
AK No. No. . .
ZM Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince . . .
AK More I guess that ascribing a kind of cerebrally political structure to the work is that it should be implicit and not explicit. I feel like coming out of school that that's more familiar. In the same breath though, I have a major, major aversion to this kind of classical, formalized work that you talk about, a classical formalism that you call it. Whether or not these artists have a kind of narrative construct around their work, just the idea of the idea of the formal, or the classical formal structure is really a posture that's empty, in that it's the form is the armature for an idea and then the idea is kind of schmushed on to it and both are kind of arbitrary.
SP Shall we move onto the next . . . This is an image of a work by Matthew Barney in 1992, I believe, the early work way before the Cremaster cycle. It was a performance that he did here in New York. I don't know how well you can see it but he has a device like a speculum up his ass and he scaled around the gallery space with this object up his ass and also attached to his penis. So that it gets to the heart of Matthew Barney's sort of point-of-view about the wholeness of man via his own anatomy any by the exchange of the positive and negative spaces of a man's body. This just explains the whole 500 hours of Cremaster in a very, very understated sense. . . .
ZM Do you mind if we jump in here and discuss Matthew Barney because I think he is really is a touchstone in a way that John Currin is a touchstone to younger artists responding to them, referencing them, rebelling against them forcing them to their own kind of tack to the world. I'm interested in hearing what some of the other panelists have to say about Matthew Barney as the blockbuster, about Matthew Barney as a kind of brand, as to the artist turning into brand. And what that means for these younger artists who are trying to follow in the footsteps of them. As you mentioned, John Currin as a kind of arbitrary, unattainable goal of what the artist can attain but what does that mean for the younger artist, what does that mean?
LG My history of working with artists, of being a curator is very much formed on an idea of a sort of social character of art, whether its movements, as the problematic term has come up or ensembles or just artists whose social character has something to do with their work.
ZM By social character do you mean personality?
LG Partly their personality and partly the way their work can influence other artists. In my opinion, Matthew Barney has influenced no one. . . .
SP I think that with work with productional value that is as astronomically high as Matthew Barney's pretty much into the budget of a motion picture, and Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley, that this work gets produced, is made, is seen, people buy it, it is shown in museums, is fully documented, is a major contribution. Cause sadly, you can't say that for the whole of the Fluxus Movement, which has just started to receive critical attention recently; wasn't as big a deal when it was being created as it is now. I've never seen it in more museums than I have now in the last four years and even to some extent, Dada and Surrealism are being sort of taken on as a popular cultural art form but that's because most people are believing that Dali is the sort of hallmark of Surrealism which is not really true.
ZM I think you touched on a sort of important point here which is that seen by people, what does this mean today. This is one reason why NADA is so important and that people are showing so much interest is that people are starved for newness. They want something new. They have become so jaded and so blasť that they have to have something new and they are going to young galleries. Why they are looking for young artists who are 18--who are 20, or what-have-you. And it is part of the larger explosion of youth culture across the board whether it is music whether it is fashion, whatever it might be and you are seeing this particularly in the way our cultural institutions are responding to that, whether it is PS1 or the way in which MoMA is connected with PS1, to really tap into that demographic that they want a piece of and I think this is a larger issue about the system that we are existing in right now--the art viewing and production system. And I think it is really focused on youth today and on newness and I don't know that it was ever any different and I feel that it is hyper-accelerated toward that now and I just wonder what my other panelists think about that.
SP Whereas Donald Judd or the Bauhaus wanted to change the world and the way that we looked at the world, termites are just trying to keep there own fires burning in an art world of complacency and commercialization. . . .
Audience This isn't addressed to any particular member of the panel. It's for all of you, I guess. It seems to me that one hears that the association, an association of innovation and associated with young artists. And I rarely hear about older artists (applause) who are also struggling and in fact, produce very innovative and very interesting work and perhaps that is so because there is also an element of maturity that can lend to the art and I wanted to add to that is there any place within NADA for such artists?
SP. . . part of it has to do with the gallery system in New York. As young people, as young dealers, most of the contacts you make, most of the people you are invited to the studios of, most of the people you have access to are people your own age. That is just the truth. When you go to parties, when you are invited to studios, when you go to studio visits for MFAs, somebody has a brand new gallery and they have no artists and they are looking for ways to meet artists. One of the first things they do is go to an MFA show. They are not invited to the same cocktail parties that--a 21-year old starting a gallery is not invited to the same parties as a 60-year-old. And this is, for better or for worse, where a lot of these transactions happen. This is how a lot of artists get signed. In fact, my boss, Jay Gorney, one of his advices to artists on how to get signed for an artist of any age, is to make friends with other artists. It's a networking situation, for better or for worse. Is there a place in NADA for older artists? Absolutely. . . .
SP It's also that what I said before, you don't know, none of us knows what is going to stay and what is going to go. I mean, even work that has been on view for 20 years or so --you know when my kids are taking art history or they are in college, are they still going to be looking at that work, I have no idea. I don't know if anybody is going to care about John Currin 40 years from now, maybe, maybe not.