February 2009 Archives

Urban Perspectives


If you stretched a rubber band all the way to where Denis Peterson was the last time I saw him and then let it snap, today you'd find him off where the rubber band ends up. Last time he was painting refugees and inmates of prison camps and victims of genocide. Today he's painting New York City street scenes.

I have to try really hard not to judge him. As he told me at his opening, he couldn't paint those people any more: He was crying while he painted. It's a difficult thing he was doing, and, really, was it his responsibility? Was what he was doing important in any sense? I can't answer those questions. That alone is enough to make me think I shouldn't judge him. So I won't make any more excuses for Denis; I'm going to stick to my general philosophy of art and concentrate on how the paintings look, despite my initial discomfort over their wholehearted embrace of Pop, with their meticulous recreations of billboards, magazine covers, neon signage, corporate logos, and other urban visual clutter.

Denis Peterson, Fashion Avenue, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 36x32 inches

Denis Peterson, Fashion Avenue, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 36x32 inches

Denis is working much closer to home these days. This show focuses exclusively on New York, specifically midtown Manhattan around Eighth Avenue. He says that he moved from his refugee paintings of Don't Shed No Tears to portraying the homeless of America; then he found himself spending more and more time on the backgrounds, on the buildings and signs behind and above his subjects. Following his nose the way artists often do, he began photographing and painting the world he probably knows best as a lifelong New Yorker, that of the vertical world of the city sidewalk.

I say vertical because these are certainly not a pedestrian's eye view of the city. The people are there doing their business, caught in startling yet somehow breezy clarity, studiously -- like good New Yorkers -- ignoring the photographer/painter and the bustling signs and windows above and around them. But the humans are just one part of the scene; most of the canvases are taken up by minutely observed advertising, building facades, streetlights, traffic signs, signals, and, off near the top, maybe a patch of blue sky.

I raved a lot about Denis' technique last time and all I can say now is, it wasn't enough raving. His latest series is a showcase for how far he can take his abilities: He is, really, an Olympic-level athlete of painting. I've seen a lot of fantastic painters in my time, academically trained and otherwise, but Denis -- Denis is in a class by himself. He is the Michael Phelps of painting, the Usain Bolt of airbrush and paintbrush. He makes Vermeer look like Jackson Pollock.

Keep in mind I'm just talking about technique. But the comparison to Vermeer is good in more ways than one: although good old Johannes was known for interiors, he painted regular people doing regular things, and Denis is doing the same with his street scenes. And they're both clearly photographically based; there are some holdouts who refuse to believe Vermeer used a camera obscura but I think the case is pretty well settled. Since Denis is alive and kicking, thankfully, we can ask him how he does it, and he can tell us that his compositions start with multiple photographs which he assembles. Then he adjusts details, makes changes, moves this here and that there, with the final result a scene that never really existed but which is a distillation of a real place. He transfers the composition in different ways -- projecting, tracing, and so on -- and then he begins to paint.

And there, frankly, is where the magic happens. The last series of his I saw was stunning in its evocation of a photo: If I hadn't been told otherwise, I probably would have assumed his paintings were digital prints on canvas. His current series is beyond that, beyond photography, beyond photorealism; Denis calls it hyperreality, but even that's too crude because it still has the word "reality" in it. Photos possess within them a paradox: The closer you look at them, the less you actually see. The same is true of most paintings. Get close enough and you start to see photo grains or blobs of paint or pixels. But not with these; the closer you get the smoother the paintings become. Even when Denis is using a brush and not his usual airbrush, when you get your nose right up against the painting, it's still smooth, perfectly formed, exactly rendered. Denis is using the paintbrush more, too, and it shows, but really only if you look very closely and carefully. I actually prefer his brushwork slightly since it's a little more lively, even though he's still many miles from impasto.

The results of all this technique and choice of subject are technical marvels and entertaining documentaries. Even though the precise moment of each painting never exists, it's nevertheless true in the sense that it's a minor drama enacted every day. The signs and buildings of New York City are fluid, ever-changing, and no snapshot could possibly capture more than a momentary portrait of any given vista; but Denis, through his art, manages to snare a true, timeless sense of how the city feels.

But it's a funny thing: Under the slickness of these works, the Pop-ness of it all, the sheer advertising campaign shininess of the paintings, I think what comes through most of all is Denis' sensitivity. It was less obvious in Don't Shed No Tears because all I had for comparison was that series; now that I've seen more, it's clear that underlying all of Denis' work is an acute sensitivity, a deftness and lightness of touch, an infusion of caring, not just for the technical aspects of painting, but also for the subjects he chooses. He spends about 200 hours on each painting and during that time he truly comes to understand what he's painting and, more, he transmits that understanding, transmutes it somehow into his art.

It's also worth noting that, in this latest series, Denis carefully hides his signature. I'm a sucker for a puzzle like that. I always used to love studying Hirschfeld caricatures to find his daughter's name. I live for that stuff. Also it gave me something to do at the opening.

Denis' show opened at the Mark Gallery in Englewood, New Jersey, a very fancy neighborhood with a downtown mostly made up of Talbots, sushi restaurants, and Audi and Mercedes dealerships. Being a close personal friend of Denis' -- he immediately and warmly greeted me as "Emmanuel" -- I got to meet the gallery owner, Arielle Mark; her wonderful husband, who was also the official photographer; and David Kapp, one of the other artists in the show. Because I've made it sound like it was all about Denis, but in fact he was just one of three. There was also Ben Aronson, who I didn't meet, even though I really liked his work.

Ben Aronson, Closed Ramp, West Side Highway, 1997, oil on panel, 52x46 inches

Ben Aronson, Closed Ramp, West Side Highway, 1997, oil on panel, 52x46 inches

Ben's work showed an excellent grasp of atmosphere with a brilliantly deep palette of jewellike tones vibrating against gauzy passages of haze. Although basically impressionist in his approach, and showing the same kind of attention to light and air, Ben delves much more deeply into the shadows of the city.

David Kapp, Go, 2008, oil on linen, 28x28 inches

David Kapp, Go, 2008, oil on linen, 28x28 inches

David's work impressed me somewhat less, maybe because I felt I understood how they were made. Not that I could have painted them myself, exactly, but that they were within my abilities; they were made up of things I could do, unlike the other two artists' work. I saw David's paintings as basically surface-level Impressionism, with a lot of brushwork taking over for a lack of detail and understanding. There's an element of mobile phone photography to David's paintings in this show, as if he just transfered and painted over very low-resolution JPEGs without even squinting at the actual contents.

Arielle certainly put out a fine spread of food and drink, including -- a first at any opening I've attended -- a roving drinks server. There was some really incredible hummus and some sushi that had been out a little longer than it should, but that's what I get for arriving late. I hate being the fat guy at the buffet, though, so after sneaking a few bits I commenced the gallery ramble, which is what you do after you've already looked at everything once but still feel you have to hang around a few more minutes.

Daniella Sheinman, Venus No. 2, graphite on canvas, 78x54 inches

Daniella Sheinman, Venus No. 2, graphite on canvas, 78x54 inches

My ramble took me into the office following a glance at a large work by Daniella Sheinman. It caught my eye because it was the kind of thing I might do, sort of. As I walked into the office I was slightly startled to find a young man sprawled on a couch fiddling with an iPod. He turned out to be Arielle's son, and he admitted he'd invited himself to the opening before realizing he had absolutely nothing to do there.

Then I noticed another piece leaning on the wall. "Anna Druzcz!" I said. "I know her work from Williamsburg!" (Before you ask: Yes, I do talk in hyperlinks.)

Arielle's son then told me how he'd seen Anna's work at an art fair -- some kind of small works affordable art fair or other the name of which I didn't catch -- and he liked it, so his mother looked at it, and decided she liked it also. "I have one in my bedroom," he said. "Mom got it for me for my bar mitzvah." Lucky kid! And good for Anna, too: A sale and a gallery all in one go.

Gerry Andrea, The Piano Scene of Dave McKenna

Gerry Andrea, The Piano Scene of Dave McKenna

Some more rambling, some more meeting people. I ended up talking to Gerry Andrea, an illustrator and artist who used to do album covers for jazz records on the Columbia label among many other things. Got to love those old jazz LP covers.

Englewood might not be the center of the art world, and it may not look anything like Denis' paintings, or Ben's or David's, for that matter, but it does have this going for it: After I said my good-byes to everyone, it was a short drive home.

Adam Fowler

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Two words describe the weather on the night of Adam Fowler's opening at Margaret Thatcher Projects: Cold.

I'm sorry, I lost a word there because my face froze. It was so cold people were cuddling up with witches' teats to keep warm. Still, there was a healthy turnout at Adam's show.

Adam Fowler, Untitled (64 layers), 2008, graphite on paper, hand cut and layered, 5.5x8 inches

Adam Fowler, Untitled (64 layers), 2008, graphite on paper, hand cut and layered, 5.5x8 inches

When last we saw Adam he was doing pretty much the same thing he's doing now: Drawing lots of loops and curves in graphite (that's pencil to you and me), cutting out the white paper in between, and stacking the results in layers. The final works are somewhere between drawings and sculptures. They're elegant, minimalist, and, all in a group, let's face it, not very exciting. Individually taken they're lovely little works, although they're more reliquaries for obsession than beautiful objects. I like them better when he switches it up a little. For example, in the pictured piece, in the upper right you can see a few loops that curve more tightly than the others. I like that.

Adam's only real change from three years ago that I can see is now some of the pieces are laid flat on plinths slightly over waist height. I think this is an excellent improvement. One of the problems with Adam's work is it doesn't work at all from a distance; as you approach them, from across the room, each piece just looks gray, an indistinct blob of undifferentiated fuzz. Standing in the doorway to the gallery it doesn't look like anything's really on display. But place the same work flat and you can't approach it: All you can do is get up to it and look down, so you first apprehend it from the proper viewing distance. You can get closer if you want (or if you're very short) but you can't get farther away -- pretty much everyone is forced to see the work from the same approximate distance, about half arm's length. Which is pretty much right.

I met Adam for the first time that night. He's just what you'd expect, a slim, bearded monastic, appearing as if he just stepped out of his cell. But cheerful and friendly, like a happy monk. I asked about the works laid flat. He said he did that because he didn't want each one to have a definite orientation -- there's not supposed to be a defined "up" with his pieces. It's just that, when you hang it on the wall, it has to have an "up." But if you lay it down, you can view it from any side.

So, really, pulling the pieces off the wall solves two problems. More of them should be seen that way. Maybe at Adam's next show they'll all be lying down.

Is it okay to call Larry Poons an Abstract Expressionist? I'm not sure. He's been around so damned long it's hard to say what he should be called -- he's outlived more movements than most people get to see in their lifetimes. I'm going to go ahead and call him an Abstract Expressionist because that's what he's doing now, I believe. If you see his most recent show at Danese and don't agree, well, you're blind. It looks to me like he's gone all the way around and back again and here he is, about 72 years old, not only still kicking but still working, and not only still working but still working at six feet by six feet, and working every inch of that canvas.

I won't say that the show bowled me over. But I was affected a lot more than I expected to be. Larry has that in common with Jackson Pollock, too -- I never expected Pollock to do much for me, but when I finally saw his work in person, wow, it knocked me back. Larry didn't hit me that hard, maybe because I don't sense that laser-like intensity of focus; rather, Larry's more meandering, questing. Maybe that's just because he's made it a lot farther than old Jackson ever did.

But I'm leading off with Pollock and Abstract Expressionism because Larry's latest show is rooted in that tradition. The works in this show are all large, all-over, tactile, almost scultped, and best viewed from that sweet spot where the painting just fills your field of view. Stand there and the world of the painter opens up to you. It's a world, in this case, filled with tentative marks, mostly right-handed dabs and strokes, mostly low-chroma, fleshy colors. The texture varies from mere stains on the canvas all the way up to thick oozing strokes, from grainy crumbles of nearly pure pigment to gluey translucent strands of almost pure acrylic gel. Every so often Larry dips into the brighter hues, whipping out a pink close to fluorescence or a deep sapphire blue.

Larry Poons at Danese, 2009, installation view:  Check out the staple!

Larry Poons at Danese, 2009, installation view: Check out the staple!

Looking more closely at the work you can see some of his methods. It's clear in some cases he ended with the same canvas he began with; the edges are neatly taped off. In other cases he's working in the time-honored Color Field tradition of cutting smaller pieces out of larger canvases; the paint heads off and around the back of the stretchers. I assume from this that he works on unstretched cotton duck and only mounts the paintings later. Another tradition he adheres to is that of the messy studio: I found a loose staple dried to one of the paintings. Some future conservator's going to have fun with that, gluing it back on periodically.

Larry Poons, Calling You, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 67.25x114 inches

Larry Poons, Calling You, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 67.25x114 inches

Danese thoughtfully didn't have anyone showing in the smaller spaces off the main gallery. I'm not sure anyone would want to compete. This also allowed the gallerist to set one painting aside to stand by itself in a small quiet space. Amid the hubbub of the opening, this was like a little chapel, where visitors, perhaps sensing the atmosphere, only went in two or three at a time. And there is the best work in the show, a lovely, lyrical painting called Calling You.

Unlike the other paintings in the show, Calling You isn't painted on raw canvas, but instead is based on an underpainting of ultramarine. Ultramarine was once upon a time the most expensive pigment in the world, not just because of its rarity, but also because of its clear, ringing beauty. During the Renaissance it was often reserved for the gown of the Virgin Mary. Here Larry has used it as a powerful foundation, keeping this painting from quietly humming to itself like the others -- instead it sings. Across the field of blue his strokes play freely -- I'm mixing metaphors here. It's really not something to be described, only, as the best art should be, experienced.

If I say the show didn't bowl me over, that's all together; Calling You all by itself is absolutely fantastic. Make the trip to Danese for that alone.

Some people talk as if past art movements and styles are settled, done, and dead. But on the wall they're just as alive as we want them to be. It takes someone like Larry Poons to come along and show us that truth.

[Note: I'd like to thank Alexandra Woodworth at Danese for getting me the JPEG and details for "Calling You".]

Art in the Free Market

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Anyone who believes the free market allocates resources most efficiently needs to stay in an Atlantic City hotel and casino for a while. The waste is staggering. And I'm not some tree-hugging Al Gore-loving granola-eating ecoweenie, either. But as an engineer by training and a fan of Bucky Fuller I find any waste upsetting. It always seems to me we should be doing a lot better. I keep thinking, is this really the best we can manage? Isn't there some way to channel some of this money off to people who could really use it for something?

Amongst that waste -- with the electricity running all those empty slot machines and the heat keeping warm all those long desolate hallways and various other unoccupied nook and crannies -- there's a lot of artistic effort wasted, too. I was heading into the bathroom by the pool when I noticed the vestibule was decorated -- colorful cars by the men's, fashion sketches of dresses by the women's, natch -- with actual hand-pulled prints. Down in the corner was penciled in: "1/1". I'm not sure of the exact process, but it looked like something where the artist paints on a plate which is then pressed onto the paper. Very colorful. These particular ones weren't great art or even good art, but quality is not what I was thinking about.

Paying a little more attention as I moved around the hotel showed me that the place was positively crawling with artwork, both originals and limited editions of one kind or another. And a few photos.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was at an opening for a group show where I ended up in a conversation with two of the artists talking about commissions with international hotel chains. One had been asked to do 40 paintings in about as many days for about as many thousands of dollars. "Not a good payday," he noted, although personally for that kind of opportunity I'd maim a grandmother. The other chimed in that he'd been offered a commission to do about a hundred paintings for the lobby and some suites of a Manhattan hotel, but the hotel company wanted to get the reproduction rights to the works too, and run off prints to fill in the rest of the rooms. He didn't think it'd reflect well on him or his work.

And not too long before that I noticed that my online art friend Harold Hollingsworth was reporting that some of his latest series of paintings, which my wife really fell in love with on his site, are going to decorate a Nordstrom in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Since he’s out on the west coast I wouldn’t get to see his work, but when the store opens in March I’ll be able to zip on down and check it out.

I've often thought -- not to pick on Harold, for whom I am nothing but happy and whose paintings really do look great -- I've often thought when looking at department store or hotel hallway art, that those niches seem like they'd be some kind of art purgatory. Like playing in a professional cover band. You know, where it's got all the motions of the real thing but is somehow ersatz, somehow less. I also wonder, at the same time, if I'm not being unnecessarily dismissive. And now I'm also pondering: How much of the art world is subsidized by hotels? How many artists surreptitiously sell work to the various chains -- good lord, they're accepting money from Paris Hilton! -- and don't mention it on their resumes?

Personally I think we'd be better off leaving the hotel walls empty and just letting hotels send checks to artists: That saves on shipping costs and we wouldn't have to look at mediocre prints outside the bathroom. But then, judging by my yearly budget, I'm clearly unfit for deciding the most efficient allocation of resources.

How's My Graphic Design?


Facebook is wonderful. Through that I can get all sorts of entertaining things to comment on.

Today my friend Qi Peng -- why he's my friend I don't know, but then I don't why almost anyone is my friend -- Qi Peng posts a link to William Powhida's blog, who is linking to Buck Naked's blog...and I'm already tired of explaining this. Shorter version: There's this blog called How's My Dealing? which apparently is supposed to be an obnoxious, truth-telling, badly informed, very brave blog about galleries and dealers in the art world. There's a Deathwatch on what galleries are in danger of closing -- or we wish would close already? -- and all kinds of other breathlessly important things to art and artists.

Sounds great! Just one problem: I CAN'T READ THE DAMNED THING. It's like the evil horrid malnourished spawn of late-1990s Wired layout. The only thing missing is the BLINK tag and that's probably because Blogger sends a hit squad out to your location if you try it. Any time anyone uses a different color for every letter in a sentence you know you're in trouble. It's like when I got one of those multicolor pens back in grade school and wrote all my headings in four different inks for a week. And when the anonymous blogger isn't writing in all different colors, the text is black on dark gray -- news flash, that's pretty much impossible to read.

And it's not just the layout and colors, which are bad enough, but the style, which is, like, hyper Page Six smacked into a brick wall. What the hell does "Gallerists Respond: Pete Surace has commented on RARE, granted bonus O and renewed benefit of the doubt" even mean? It's not English, it's not any kind of language. It makes those blind items -- "Who was that dapper English actor with a hit movie in theaters vomiting into the sink with at Club Wazoo?" -- look like Shakespeare.

I think I learned my lesson on anonymous bloggers back when Edna was still active. I'm going to share that lesson with you now: Put your real name to it, you coward, or shut the fuck up.

Zach to Artists: 'Suck It'


Artinfo reports that Zach Feuer is dropping artists from his gallery due to the weak economy. He's quoted as saying, "Now is the time to have a lower overhead and be small and lean." Because, after all, keeping an artist's name on your Website costs money. Why move to a smaller space or a less expensive neighborhood when you can tell artists to go scratch? Especially when you can swap out a potentially cranky living painter for a nun who's been dead for 20 years.

My favorite part, though:

Feuer’s old roster was heavy on painters, while the pared-down group contains only three. “[I] wanted to make sure there were no redundancies, with two people covering the same area,” he said.

Because, after all, one painter's pretty much the same as another.

Dear Zach: May you choke on your Rainbow Backwash.

Shot Across the Bauhaus


Okay, those reviews I promised? Coming. Really. I mean it. Probably.

In the meantime: I don't know if you ever read my other blog, Probable Working Sequence, but if you don't, you don't know that I've had a studio in Brooklyn since August. I have. Over the past few months I've found myself drawn into the neighborhood. These things happen. You see the same guy behind the counter at the convenience store, you see the same people on the train, you bump into the same people at Lowe's. It's inevitable.

Today I finally reached the point where I picked up a copy of the free local paper with my bagel. It's the Brooklyn Paper, subhead: "Brooklyn's Real Newspaper". I'm kind of sorry they don't have a sub-subhead, something like "The Paper, with News on it, really, from Brooklyn".

The February 7, 2009 issue leads off with a great article titled ART ATTACK by one Mike McLaughlin. I'd like to give Mike credit -- and I really do mean this as a compliment -- for taking a subway station's worth of advertising and turning it into a blistering article -- with carryover! -- belittling the Museum of Modern Art and, by extension, all of Manhattan. Mr. McLaughlin accuses MoMA of attempting to poach museum-goers from Brooklyn by filling the Atlantic Avenue-Pacific Street subway station with posters and informational displays and digital gewgaws about the paintings in their collection. Mike apparently loves loves loves the Brooklyn Museum and feels like MoMA is a pretty crappy johnny-come-lately to the New York museum scene.

I personally love these little internecine borough squabbles, since I grew up in Staten Island, which is always the loser. The idea of Brooklyn asserting its superiority in anything is something I find endlessly amusing. Brooklyn's main claim to fame, to my mind, is that it's nicer than Staten Island, Queens, and the Bronx, which is sort of like saying it's less virulent than smallpox, the bubonic plague, and influenza.

Then again, it's worth reiterating that I grew up in Staten Island and yet have never been in the Brooklyn Museum. I didn't even know Brooklyn had a museum. Why would they? I thought they kept all their art in Manhattan like everyone else.

My favorite part of the article, though, is the eminently unbiased, objective, and newsworthy table which I reproduce for you here:

Bursting with Egyptian and African artSTRENGTHSLarge collection, if you like that kind of thing
That "Star Wars" costume showEMBARRASSING MOMENTOnce hung a Matisse upside-down!
No money for subway station ad campaignsWEAKNESSES$20 admission price

I don't know about you, but I'm thinking about heading to the Brooklyn Museum sometime soon. Did you know they're native to Brooklyn? I'm thinking they need a subhead: The Brooklyn Museum: Brooklyn's Museum.

Why There's So Much Bad Art


Two-Fisted Art

I'm going to lead off by demonstrating a great technique. I'm going to magically cast a glowing aura of erudite gravitas over my whole essay. I'll perform this amazing feat by quoting a few lines of one of the most popular poems in the English language. It's perfect for this kind of magic because, first of all, it's really dark and portentous and therefore really sincere and important; and second of all it's really short, so it doesn't tax anyone's brains too hard. Part of the magic of appearing erudite and grave involves not straining yourself too hard. (Strain too much and you just look constipated.) Thirdly, the poem is so incredibly well known you don't have to look too hard to find a copy.

Okay, so here comes the magic. Get ready for it.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

from The Second Coming
by William Butler Yeats

See that? Isn't it wonderful? Now I look really serious and smart and can move on to the main part of my essay, which is to lay out who the worst are and to build up some passionate intensity in the best.

I have been too respectful.

This might seem a bit much for me to say. You might think I'm an amazingly disrespectful person with the things I've written on my blog and elsewhere. But you're not in my head. You don't know what I really think. And I often find myself trying to phrase things in a nicer way. I pull my punches. Sometimes I just avoid saying things -- even really obvious things -- because I'm too respectful.

I grew up lower middle class in New York City. My father was an auto mechanic and my friends were sons of firemen and construction workers. Roofers and carpenters. Janitors. People who worked with their hands. One thing I was taught growing up was the value of hard work because working hard was something the people around me knew about. They worked hard to get what they had. They respected work.

They also extended this ethic to others. When you met a successful businessman, you showed him respect, because to become successful, he must've worked very hard. The more successful he appeared, the more respectful you had to be.

What I've learned over the years, though, is that actual success, the appearance of success, and work are three separate items. You can have any one of them without the others.

When you walk into a hardware store, let's say, you can be reasonably sure, unless the store is new or going out of business as you stand there, that it's making enough money to continue. As my dad would say, it's makin' its nut: Selling enough merchandise to cover its expenses. You can look around on the shelves and not ask yourself, does someone buy all this crap? Because someone does. The store sells enough fertilizer and paintbrushes and screws and nails and whatever else to pay for its rent and employees and dusty stock of enameled cast iron cookware. If you meet the owner of the store, you show him some respect, because he's running a successful business.

The same is true of a dry cleaners, and a liquor store, and a Chinese take-out place. Because no one opens a 7-11 for the cachet, for the prestige, for the access to a higher class of people. These places all make their nut or they die.

Not all businesses are like that, though. There are businesses that people go into because it looks like fun or because it makes them feel better about themselves in some way. Businesses that come with a certain class, that allow one to rub elbows with better people than you find on the street. Movie studios. Restaurants. Antique shops. Art galleries.

If you approach the people who own and run these places the same way I was taught to, you can end up in trouble. Because you might walk into an art store and look around and think, "Who buys all this crap? Well, someone must, because the store's still here and the rents are really high in this neighborhood." And you might be respectful to the owner of that gallery because you think they're running a good business.

Are they really? You have no way of knowing. For all you know, the gallery owner sells heroin in the South Bronx to pay for their art store. They could have a well-paying day job, or a trust fund, or a rich spouse. There's no reason at all to think, when you want to know who buys all this crap, there's no reason to think that anyone does. It could all really be exactly what it appears to be: Worthless junk.

Of course at a certain point the appearance of success can become success of a sort. People continued to invest in Bernard Madoff's enterprises, not because he actually had a good business, but because he appeared to have a good business. People threw good money after imaginary money. Likewise, someone might buy a Jeff Koons sculpture because Jeff Koons is a successful artist. Never mind if his reputation is all hot air: If enough people buy his junk because he appears successful then he becomes successful.

Alas, I was brought up to be respectful to people who appeared to be successful. I'd probably have been respectful to Charles Ponzi, Jack Abramoff, or Bernard Madoff. If I met him, I'd probably smile and shake George W. Bush's hand. Because it's hard to be disrespectful to people, and I was brought up to be polite and respectful towards successful men. I was never really taught to question that success.

Gradually I've learned it's a bad idea to respect those who don't deserve it. They won't respect you back and you'll look like an idiot. They'll use you for what they can and they'll treat you like crap otherwise, because they don't need your respect. They didn't earn it and they don't want it. They can drop you like a used Kleenex because their business isn't real. It's trickery. It's fake. It is, in fact, bullshit.

Worse, if you appear as if you might even slightly threaten their bullshit, if you perhaps suggest they face the emptiness and worthlessness of their endeavor, then they really won't like you. And if you continue to show them respect after that, well, then you'll just look like a lickspittle.

I don't want to look like a lickspittle. I don't want to toady. I don't want to tie myself in knots trying not to say the obvious thing, trying to be polite, trying to maintain a veneer of civility in the face of gross stupidity, cupidity, and egoism. I don't want to be nice any more. As the great philosopher James Woods once said, "There's only one thing you get from eating a bowl of shit, and that's a bigger bowl of it the second time around."

I think I've eaten the biggest bowl of shit I'm going to.

My plan is not to attack people for no reason. I have no intentions of being entirely negative here. I have no desire to expressly go looking for people I can pick on.

However, my plan is to stop being nice to people who don't deserve it. I'm going to praise those who earn praise and denigrate those who earn denigration. I'm not going to sit quietly while stupidity reigns. I'm going to renew my commitment to total and complete honesty. I'm going to strive to write down the truth as I see it, and I'm going to strive to see things truly.

This is going to make people angry. This is going to, at some point, make you angry. Too bad. For everyone who thinks that they're allowed to wave their ignorant opinions and unlettered ideas around in public without being called on their bullshit, I offer this quick course in logic: Reasonable people can disagree. You disagree with me. That doesn't mean you're reasonable.

I'm going to take a break from my usual format here and do a little editorializing. I do have a review I'm supposed to be writing but it hasn't made it down the pipe yet. It'll get here. Or maybe it won't.

In the meantime my efforts have been going -- well, mostly they've been going nowhere. But a little of them have been expended over at Ed Winkleman's trying to have a discussion about attitudes towards art. Specifically, administrators at Brandeis University have made some noises about possibly closing the Rose Art Museum and selling off its art because -- or possibly in case -- they need the money. Ed is horrified. In fact he writes, "it's highly insulting to treat a collection as rich as the Rose's as mere property...[it is] a significant slice of our collective culture and a collective commitment to preserve it, as such, for future generations."

But Ed refuses to consider that his gallery might be part of the problem. You can go over and read all about it, but it's long and there's a lot of chaff in there; or you can take my shortened version here:

ED WINKLEMAN: Brandeis University thinks it's okay to just sell off all its art. Personally I blame the government, and the wing-nut branch of the conservative elements in it in particular, for this very American ambivalence toward culture.

FRANKLIN EINSPRUCH: Maybe, before you blame the Bush administration, you should consider what role you yourself, and Winkleman Gallery artists, have had in developing that American ambivalence toward culture.

ED: This isn't about my gallery! And anyway you're just jealous!

Ed thereafter closed down all discussion about his own artists, which is a real shame, because to me they're at the very heart of the issue. Because as I see it, you've got an administrator at Brandeis who says, "We're getting low on cash. What can we do to trim our budget such that we can continue to provide an education to our students? Maybe we can close down the museum. After all, it's full of dusty crap no one understands or cares about, but which we can sell for some good money."

And who comes out of the woodwork to decry such a horrible plan? A guy who runs a gallery that shows shoes sculpted out of licorice and calls them art.

"Obviously we're on the right track," says the administrator, and calls up the auction house.

I mean, really: How can any non-artist be expected to take art seriously when what they get from the people who ostensibly do take art seriously is a display of push brooms with flags on the handles or Christopher K. Ho's "Happy Birthday", which not only doesn't even exist as a physical work of art, but can't be understood by anyone who isn't already involved in the art world? If contemporary gallerists have that kind of contempt for art and the art-going public, how can anyone expect a bean-counter in a cubicle to pay serious attention to them?

Keep in mind that this isn't about Brandeis per se or the Rose Art Museum or the worth of their collection. They could have the greatest art collection in the world for all I know. The important thing here is, when someone approaches a subject about which they know very little, they'll judge the tree by its fruit. And if Winkleman Gallery is the fruit, they just might decide to cut down the tree.

What's frustrating about this is Ed's cutting off this end of this discussion as if he's completely uninvolved. Well, Ed, you asked the questions. How can Brandeis contemplate such a thing? With supporters like you out there, pretty easily. You write, "I could not in good conscience now advise an art student to consider this university." So that means you want to keep your kind of artists out of Brandeis?

"Win-win," says that Brandeis administrator, and the museum is on the block.

Gandhi said we must become the change we wish to see in the world. If you want art to be taken seriously -- the way, for example, chemistry and physics are -- then stop fucking around.


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