If the Artist is Tour Guide where are we going? Into the past, into the future, into an altered present? Art is the craft of aesthetics, a Sunday kind of love, a discipline that requires total commitment. Last night I went down to the Lower East Side to an opening where the artist purported to give us a look into the past of Romantic landscape painting. He’d made an installation out of lots and lots of candy colored striping variously suspended from the ceiling and applied to the walls, and also fuzzy digitized images, and it was so fun to hear the popgun pops of taped down mounds of bubble wrap on the floor as we walked across them. The artist here was tour guide through the accumulations of his studio, advertising a look at Caspar David Friedrich-land, where once real hunters in Austrian get-ups might have been shooting boar. But the tour was a flop. The emperor’s new clothes had more going for them.
Thence to Soho to an exhibition that was nothing but paintings, and this one a lesson in why painting second-hand Romanticism is an irrelevant practice. Here the tour bus loaded with artisans never even left the station. It makes no sense to paint what’s already been painted, and it’s equally true that not every experiment with installations is of interest. What’s lacking in both cases is discipline and rigorous editing so that the end result has something to tell us. All dedicated artists seek an audience, all serious viewers want to come away with something more than entertainment. But it’s failure of imagination that allows us as viewers and artists to believe that either the viewer or the artist should do all the work. Just as a profusion of tweets is not a novel, neither does an unedited stream of video nor the detritus of the studio constitute art. Some sort of intelligent shape has to be imposed on it by the artist in order to convey a message to the viewer. Let us not venture further into whether the results are Vermeer or Shakespeare or not, but only remark that while everyone has a nugget of creative instinct, only some have what it takes to pan for gold.
As I finished this blog, into my inbox popped an invitation to what I guarantee will be a tour through some serious art and first-rate painting by Katherine Bradford,Meghan Brady, Cassie Jones, Don Voisine, Mark Wethli and others. Be sure to check out Chunky Monkey at Red Flagg in Chelsea next Thursday night, September 17, 6-8 P.M. and through October 17. Money will be refunded if you're not absolutely satisfied.