Monday, February 23, 2009

Chyrenheppa and Me

Chyrenheppa Diefendorf, my alter ego and art interviewer, joined me recently for a trip to Chelsea to look at landscape art. “We’ve tramped all up and down from 19th Street to 26th,” she said. “Did you think anything was worth seeing?” And I replied that yes, I did, but it was not painting as I had hoped. It was photography.

CD: why had you hoped for painting?
DZ: because I’m always trying to define for myself the relevance of landscape painting. I’m not sure that a landscape painting is anything other than reportage, a look through the window at the scene beyond.
CD: What about those really big paintings we saw at Stellan Holm in Day-Glo colors that are “spanning the compositional formalism of the Hudson River School to a reverence for nature akin to Joseph Beuys’?” Surely the artist get some creds for linking to Beuys?
DZ: For starters, I get put off the art when the statement is poorly written. But there was a certain likeable-ness about the paintings, just nothing new to add to the dialogue.
CD: putting aside the question of why you want landscape painting to be something other than what it’s always been, did you feel the photography had anything more to offer?
DZ: Well, right off, photography is a look through a window, or lens, no matter how you manipulate it later on. So in his Dark Forest prints, Japanese artist Keita Sugiura starts by looking, but in the extrapolation of the camera’s information, goes far beyond that to create a world of richly dense darks and flickering lights that might have been painted but was not.
CD: scuse me?
DZ: Extrapolation - loosely put, extending the application of a method to an unknown conclusion based on trends in the known data. The going beyond was also there in the Kusho “writing in the sky” photographs at Bruce Silverstein. Watching the microlevel of India ink and water at the moment of their convergence is only possible thanks to technology that allows the photographic recording of phenomena within 7,500th of a second. But the result, again, almost fooled me into thinking it was a painting, just one that no human could have pulled off.
CD: sounds less like looking through a window and more like process.
DZ: You’re right, Chyrenheppa, and that’s what I want.

Brendan Cass at Stellan Holm through March 4
Keita Sugiura at Max Protetch closed February 21
Shinichi Maruyama at Bruce Silverstein through March 7

Monday, February 16, 2009

La Rivoluzione Siamo Noi

This is the title of a full portrait phototype print of Joseph Beuys, and I remember the room where I first saw it years ago - on the end wall of a long and narrow gallery. I walked toward it, walked backward to the entrance, walked toward it again. And again. The feeling of my being approached by Beuys rather than vice versa has stayed with me. I saw it for the second time yesterday, in an ongoing exhibition of Beuys’ work at MOMA. It was not as beautifully sited, but the message is the same: We are the revolution. Beuys’ shamanistic stance and personal style bring meaning to what today, in most of his work, may seem obscure or even dated. Wall text refers to the “mythological, historical and personal relevance” of Beuys’ output, and sitting in front of five vitrines newly acquired by the museum, and surrounded by hordes of Sunday visitors, I was struck by the emptiness of those vitrines and their carefully chosen contents – the empty spaces surrounding the objects in the vitrines, and the psychological quiet that also seems to surround objects and vitrines. Nonetheless, Beuys is only as empty as your lack of imagination, and as rich and full as the symbolic and sacred worlds he refers to. Joseph Beuys: The Reader, published in 2007 by the MIT Press, was my first choice among the offerings of the Museum store on my way home.

So art is a catalyst for change, though art may be used to smother independence just as surely as it foments it. Also at MOMA, I came away from Arto Halonen’s documentary Shadow of the Holy Book, dismayed about big corporations’ complicity in the human rights violations in Turkmenistan, dismayed but not surprised at how revolutions can bring ill rather than good. Can artists be the revolution, or do the interests of global capitalism and big governments, using art for their own devious purposes, always have the upper hand? The Holy Book, by the way, is not the Bible, Koran or Torah, but the Ruhnama, a fabricated piece of propaganda supported by Daimler-Chrysler and John Deere, among other well-known corporate giants whose actions are in deliberate violation of their stated ethical standards.

And a final parting shot: judging by the checkout queue at the MOMA store, I would say that our own government missed a good bet when it deleted arts funding from the stimulus package.

some sites:
Joseph Beuys' La Rivoluzione siamo noi
The film
Update on the stimulus package

Monday, February 09, 2009

Reading The Road

Just last night, I finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and thought as I put it down, how often my work has been generated by walking, and by the impressions I’ve formed along the way. In Newfoundland, where I walked to learn the landscape, the scenery was so monotonous that I took to counting my steps just to stay motivated. Walking in Maine, where the bones of the earth are heaved up in most astonishing ways, I think about tectonics. Today I walked through the Brooklyn Museum, where a 4th Floor exhibit, Selections from American Art," reexamines landscape. There’s a hilarious quasi-sculptural painting, “Falling Bierstadt,” that answers my need as a painter to go up against the euphoria of 19th century landscape painting. And as always, I found Olafur Eliasson’s grid of photographs to be awfully two dimensional in more ways than one. I’m not a fan of his obvious iterations of what is all around us all the time. (Even in New York, all you have to do is look.) But the piece that grabbed me most and held me longest, and brings me back to The Road, was Terence Koh’s stack of large and small vitrines, some empty, some containing white objects recalling man’s inhumanity to man and its artifacts. McCarthy’s apocalyptic tale, in which few people and no other life forms remain, describes a world of “nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before.” Everything covered by blowing ash. Koh’s work, it would seem, has been to collect what remnants remain from that world, remnants finally washed clean by rain, and present them to us as reminders of what once was, or what may someday come to pass.