A view of the back side of Jeff Koons' Puppy in front of the Museum
Guggenheim on Saturday. As always disappointing. Why the big room for “learning through art” when there seems to be no space at all now for the permanent collection? Wouldn’t it be more “educational” to actually stand before real works? Juan Muñoz left me a little indifferent….though I can see why big museums like it…theatrical, commands the space well etc. Still digesting the Matthew Ritchie installation. The “Surreal things” exhibition was one big generalisation. The prevailing power in the Basque country has always had a big stake in this Museum and shady goings on there…a recent case of an accountant stealing funds…do nothing to improve the reputation of Guggenheim Bilbao. What governs the acquisitions policy gives little confidence either, in a so-called international level museum why Jesús Mari Lazcano? & Koldobika Jauregui? Dreadful. There is even talk of a new Guggenheim museum in the countryside outside of Bilbao!!
Been very involved with this painting over last few days (see last post) but it's getting there...details and parts as opposed to the idea of the unitary whole. Let's face it, more like our everyday experience of things. Every centimeter has evidence of destruction yet something new evolving from it.
Painting (still) is a group exhibtion at Elba Benitez Gallery in Madrid curated by Ignasi Aballí (Barcelona 1958) in my mind one of the most interesting artists working on the Spanish scene. It’s a very varied group of artists: Bernard Frize, On Kawara, Raoul de Keyser, Jonathan Monk, Günter Umberg, Christopher Wool, Rèmy Zaugg, who according to Aballí can be contextualised (quoting Catherine Millet) by the need "to be aware of the iconoclastic movements that have succeeded one another over the last hundred years, and not act as though they never existed” and that “the practice of painting (today) demands having exhaustive knowledge, the more the better, about the artistic developments in the 20th century and acting in consequence”. While I agree with this in principal, it is not an entirely new argument and in my opinion runs the risk of being overly deterministic. However, the selected artists have very different positions and seem to offer a more open range of possibilities that transcends the conceptual premise for the show. Raoul de Keyser is of undeniable importance in this context even though the artist uses the most traditional strategies in picture making compared to the more conceptual positions of say On kawara or Jonathan Monk. Ultimately, it’s the specific uniqueness of each artist’s oeuvre that matters and the importance of overriding deterministic views. While the historical prerogative is always there, what of the importance of nature (albeit in crisis), pain and pleasure? to cite a few other motivations.The infinitely variable factors of place, moment, economics, class, personality, knowledge, coincidence, light, weather…in other words the intricately specific conditions and experiences of being in the world can all be forces which shift or dislodge an artist’s work outside of expectations, even the expectations of the artist him/herself!
Conceptualism is not the only form of thinking or intelligence in art. Thinking in art also requires fluidity in the most direct sense, Bernard Frize is a wonderful example of this. Aballí is right to mention that there is still a lot of painting around but very little which offers anything of worth, evidence that it is (increasingly) an enormous challenge to make good paintings.
The morning spent preparing new supports. Even managed to start this new painting...one of a number of works which employ a kind of lattice structure. It's more a structure of light where forms emerge or disappear. As always the paintings have a starting point in the "real" world...these lattice paintings have their origin in the play of light and shadow on the buildings in the streets around the studio, windows, reflections of clouds etc. Inevitably the paintings become something in their own right...
W.G.Sebald in Central Park, NYC, 2001 (photo credit: Chris Buck)
I like living on the margins. I guess everyone has a different way of focusing and establishing a necessary distance from things in order to see them more clearly and make sense of our place in the world. This distance is not always physical of course and besides, there is always the possibility of stepping back too far and tottering on the edge of an abyss. I work best on the periphery with the sensation that the far off centre is very much in focus. I suppose it could be a weakness of character or a fear of being sucked too quickly into the whirlwind of events and those cannibalising energies at the centre of human activities... I don’t know. The art world at least, or certain aspects of it, are best kept at a controlled distance.
There is no denying the accumulated mental anguish which collectively speaking is a symptom of history itself. For the likes of a painter conscious of this pressure, at least there is the possibility of consolation and even joy in the creative act – though the very mechanisms of the process entail a constant head-on struggle with and assimilation of such things as fragility, destruction and oblivion, all part of the working process which culminates in a final “holding still” - the paradoxical “fixed flow” which is a finished painting. In one way the paintings could be described as reverberating surfaces, meshes, lattices or webs where things are consumed and extinguished or brought into view and existence. The Hegelian phantom is always lurking in the dark: the idea that the art form (painting) is slowly cancelling itself out (Duchamp et al.) under the weight of history and in every work the question is raised of its own status and value. This is a given state of affairs now, something one has to accept, but one goes on marvelling at the still unfolding possibilities when engaged in the making of paintings once certain contextual conditions have been recognised.
In one way or another the work aspires to a poetic dimension in the sense that the very processes of its making as well as the nature of a finished painting itself is a layered realm which, however humbly, mirrors our own fragility within the onslaught of history.
Regarding the nature of human anguish, which history seems to pile up endlessly, I quote W.G. Sebald from a fascinating interview with Eleanor Wachtel on CBC Radio recorded in April 1998:
I am nearing the end of John Banville’s The Untouchable. I have found its style difficult to gauge, it never seems to settle, a blend of older perhaps victorian modes and the dissonant awkwardness of the contemporary….but it is precisely this Unsettling which makes it so interesting along with its unexpected humour. Here is just one example of the magic language “The summer is ending. So too with my season. At the close of these reddened evenings especially I feel the proximal dark. My tremor, my tumour” This is an entire paragraph and an example of what it is still possible to do with language in the form that we call the novel. I must also say that I can’t help seeing a novel like this as a kind of vast, dense, intricately woven surface. (I see it this way maybe because of my painter’s eyes). Banville is a very significant writer indeed.
I have been making a number of small, dense paintings like this one. Somebody said they have a cubist-like space, but that's not my way of seeing them. They are comparable to gardens, planned initially but over time becoming overgrown...it's a fragmented space of evolving organic structures and interlocking forms. Keeping them edgy is another thing...ultimately it's idea of the painting as an energized 'surface' that counts.
Terminal Velocity (detail)
2004, sapeli wood.
Carl Andre, Stéphane Calais, Thomas Joshua Cooper, A K Dolven, Thomas Nozkowski, Robert Orchardson & Rafaël Rozendaal POINT OF NO RETURN
Point of No Return, curated by Caroline Hancock and Sherman Sam, is an exhibition at Rubicon Gallery Dublin that explores the crossing of boundaries, physical or geographical, fantastical or emotional, literal or abstract. The show features seven artists of International stature, some exhibiting in Dublin for the first time; Carl Andre, Stéphane Calais, Thomas Joshua Cooper, AK Dolven, Thomas Nozkowski (simultaneously showing at Douglas Hyde Gallery), Robert Orchardson and Rafaël Rozendaal’s.For the artist, creating a work often involves a journey. For most this is metaphorical, but for some it can also be physical. Capturing the world’s edge, for example, has been Thomas Joshua Cooper’s mission for four decades. The photographs in this exhibition, of the Atlantic Ocean’s expanses of water and rocky coastlines, literally depict, as their title suggests: point of no return.
In painted environments such as palaces or churches, the stairwell is often a place for the illusionistic enactment of the journey. Stéphane Calais’s wall painting at the gallery entrance is a temporal proposition of possibilities, certain in its physical presence, but elusive in intention.
With an acknowledgement of the final sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, Robert Orchardson creates a three-dimensional symbol of ‘a rite of passage’ or gateway. The dynamic thrust of Orchardson’s sculpture propels one inexorably forth, as in science fiction towards the unknown, where time is reversible and distances limitless.
The minimal graphics of Rafaël Rozendaal’s website, itwillneverbethesame.com, invite us to ceaselessly strive towards an end point at the touch of a mouse. The road scene develops into a constant advance and an unrelenting mise-en-abyme. It possesses an air of hope, but also of loss, as the plain desire for the future vanquishes both past and present.
Stripes twist and intertwine continuously in AK Dolven’s tilts only (his shirts), conjuring up bittersweet candy canes or barber poles. As if trapped in a closet endlessly obsessing over a loved one’s clothing, there is a hypnotic intimacy in this seemingly abstract and painterly film.
Carl Andre’s type-written word pieces slow down episodes of high tension through the repetition of cut-up text. Suspending action in words, Andre renders dynamic into form and formalizes text into a grid-like ‘objects’. Though a mainstay of Modernism, and thus iconic and singular, the space of the grid can equally be read as continuous. “Logically speaking,” Rosalind Krauss has pointed out, “the grid extends, in all directions, to infinity.”
Such a grid is also evident in the untitled painting by Thomas Nozkowski. Within it, a central vertical transition becomes an event. Nozkowski’s painting takes as its point of departure a moment, experience, or sentiment in his life, which directs the decision behind the first mark on the canvas and the process thereafter.
POINT OF NO RETURN
In 49 BC, Julius Caesar massed his troops north of the Rubicon, a river then separating Cisalpine Gaul from the Roman Republic. At said point of no return, Caesar reputedly declared: “The die is now cast.” He made a key decision to cross this river armed, thus provoking his irreversible march towards power. This crucial point of commitment to a risky course of action is universally familiar, but to none more so than to the Artist, whose practice demands that they daily embrace risk, repetition, failure and new frontiers.
An evening watching Jose Luis Guerin’s “En la ciudad de Silvia”.FACES. The surface of things. A slow gaze….a distinctive Bressonian quality (even chromatically). The city: Strasbourg. The rhythm of life (strange how pedestrians seem to participate in a silent choreographed activity) yet something artificial…staged, though not in a negative way. The city would be too beautiful if it were not for the imposing trams and street noise. The fruitless search for a girl from a brief past encounter six years before. Absence: the melancholy pursuit of intangible things….something about the nature of film in its own right. The dance scene in “Les Aviateurs” made me think of Eric Rohmer!