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Jerry Saltz‘s Facebook page is a world unto itself. With as many “friends” as the Facebook Police will allow, Jerry regularly posts provocative questions that spark conversations that can go on for days, garnering responses from hundreds of artists of every age and stripe. What began as an experiment quickly took on a life of its own, a phenom that Jerry has described as a bit like being in a room with 5,000 people, all of them discussing art.

I am fascinated by the passionate and very public tussling that goes on in Jerryland. Rather than jumping into the fray, I usually go with the lurker stance. Some artists excel and thrive at real time art languaging. I need to mull, to contemplate, to sit quietly with ideas. I love that process, but it doesn’t happen instantaneously. After all, this blog was named Slow Muse for a reason.

One of the most recent topics on Jerry’s page was about the Wade Guyton show at the Whitney Museum. For those of you who are not familiar with his work, here is Roberta Smith‘s overview from her glowing review in the New York Times:

Like many artists Mr. Guyton, who is 40, is both a radical and a traditionalist who breaks the mold but pieces it back together in a different configuration. He is best known for austere, glamorous paintings that have about them a quiet poetry even though devised using a computer, scanner and printer. The show is titled “Wade Guyton: OS,” referring to computer operating systems.

Uninterested in drawing by hand, much less in wielding a paintbrush, he describes himself as someone who makes paintings but does not consider himself a painter…

While clearly not made by hand, his works are noticeably imperfect. The paintings in particular clearly tax the equipment that generates them; they emerge with glitches and irregularities — skids, skips, smears or stutters — that record the process of their own making, stress the almost human fallibility of machines and provide a semblance of pictorial incident and life.

The line between what the artist has chosen and what technology has willed is constantly blurred.

So earlier this week Jerry posted this statement on his Facebook page:

Last week some of you claimed that Wade Guyton’s paintings aren’t paintings. Some called them “prints” or “mono-types” or other things. Some said they’re not art at all because “he doesn’t touch them.” (In fact he’s perpetually tending & tugging the linen as it comes out of the printer.) In regards to categories like painting: Dislocations, adjustments, ruptures, and expansions are always happening. Always have. Always will. Let go of the neatness of identification (see Plato’s Cave). Painting doesn’t need anyone’s protection. Like love, let painting do what it does. Or not.

Particularly for those of us who are painters, these are topics that open floodgates of strong opinions that surge and churn. As of this post, there were 788 comments on Jerry’s page. I haven’t read them all, but here are a few that stood out for me.

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I like them. they’re less about paint and “touch” of the hand and more about touch of the mind. how the mind puts things together, relates one image or memory to another. the troublesome aspect could be how impersonal they are. but i’m thinking he’s managing to avoid falling off the wagon entirely. the saving grace is in his choices of mashups. they do feel personal to me because…he manages to capture a mood and THAT touches me. his work is a flat tragedy of too much to bear.

Jennifer Wynne Reeves

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If I were able to live for 1 million yrs. I probably would still be using my hands to make my work–with a medium that is organic like paper and pigment. But, I would still appreciate having other artists use the most current technology to make THEIR work so I could look at it and feel more of who I am–and go for that with every thread of myself…call me Wilma Flintstone–It’s okay with me.

Kyle Gallup

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I could give a fuck if they are paintings or whatever, but are they good and why are always my questions. And the first? The best? Eff that shit too. Do they open the world and excite my brain? I don’t care about anything else. It is only empty dialog. New materials always find a way to present new cases, if you think about it. That is what is cool about technology and even paint has advanced if you think about how many different mediums there are now.

Alan Van Every

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I know you want a cease and desist from all dead-enders fighting for what painting is. However, you were correct to identify the label as political. This summer, you took offense to Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, claiming she “crowed that her Documenta would have ‘not much painting’.” You went on to say that Carolyn “seems hostile to art’s old unruly cave creature, painting.” Not coincidentally, she is crowned this years most powerful person in the art world. As ridiculous as the Power100 list is, your fight for painting in Documenta 13 might just as easily have put you in the ranks of a dead-end-last–war fighter too.

Aaron Holz

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Soul and a good brain connected to a good pair of eyes is the most important thing. The tools come later – to serve, not lead. Guyton’s stuff is too art-about-art for me.

If that sounds schizo, it is. BTW, Did anyone here read through the super-schizo 500-page 50th Anniversary Issue of ARTFORUM – Art’s New Media? I quote from it: “Media resist unification. They resist ontology. They are much like art. And art, we might say, is always becoming media.” — Michelle Kuo, editor, ARTFORUM, September, 2012. Perhaps as a result of reading this mass of conflicting information and opinion the takeaway was to forget such tired dialectical distinctions as analog/digital. Just look, listen, read, feel, enjoy, ponder, move and theorize with sensetive intelligence and without boundaries.

Joseph Nechvatal

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Wade Guyton looks to me to be a really interesting twist on contemporary printmaking. But why the attempt to conflate his effort -or even describe it simply as painting -I am not directing this particularly at Jerry who could be simply reporting here as this is an ongoing effort with art world heavyweights the likes of Ann Temkins weighing in (I paraphrase) Pollock dripped, Richter squeegeed and Guyton hits the print button- well within the perimeters of extending the venerable tradition in western painting of radical innovation.’ In other words Wade -who is on the hot list with the international set of curators at the moment -is being touted as yet another way of assaulting painting while employing its strength as a tradition to ad contextual weight to his work -work that probably doesnt even need the curatorial assist. This is more from the painting is dead crew (well you can still paint -but there must be irony, some form of caveat that speaks to the degradation of painting.) When these people, the generic internationalists, happen to choose an actual painter, its usually a poor one -Tuymans is a good example, the apology for painting hence its degradation continues….its called spin. If it doesnt matter, why claim its painting—when it really is not—answer: it completely matters in terms of contextual weight.

Wesley Kimler

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Here goes…
The printer is a TOOL; Artists use tools.
The “digital” (as with images or photographs) is MATERIAL; artists use materials.
Job one of the artist is: EMBED THOUGHT IN MATERIAL (whatever material that is with WHATEVER tools).

I would highly recommended for the long-term health of your own particular Cave and your own particular Cave Art that you NOT worry over anything beyond these three very basic starting points.

Trust me on this.
I am a professional.

Take time to think about it. A lot of time. Ten, fifteen years at least. Then get back to me.
Trust me on this …

Or … see you OUTSIDE the Gates of Thebes …

(Oh and see the damn show; hate on it; hate on the ptgs; hate on me. Just DO NOT worry over the above things.)

—Jerry Saltz

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So in sum, and in the long view, it really doesn’t matter if you embed specific thoughts or not in your work, what matters is that you make work that inspires other people to think, to feel, to have an ongoing relationship with the piece instead of just glancing at another abstract rectangle on the wall and never looking at it again. The goal should be depth, and therefore duration, for the viewer. It doesn’t matter if he or she grasps the artist’s thoughts or not.

Mia Pearlman

There are a few voices in my world who consistently ring true, like that neighbor who puts things back into perspective after a robbery down the street has everyone unduly fixated on urban crime.

Jerry Saltz is one of those guys in the art world, and I repeatedly find his “set it right” point of view a valuable balm applied to the latest hot spot.

Witness his response to the latest kerfuffle, the 60 Minutes defamation of the art world by Morley Safer as seen through art fairs, wealthy collectors and the circus that constellates wherever ego and money come together.

From Saltz’s response on Vulture:

Art is for anyone. It just isn’t for everyone. Still, over the past decade, its audience has hugely grown, and that’s irked those outside the art world, who get irritated at things like incomprehensibility or money. That’s when easy hit jobs on art’s bad values appear in mainstream media. A harmless garden-variety example aired tonight on CBS’s 60 Minutes (I didn’t know it was on anymore), as Morley Safer went into high snark. Never mind that he did virtually the same piece in 1993…

In tonight’s segment, Safer delivered cliché after cliché, starting with “the emperor’s new clothes…” He worried that the “gatekeepers of art” permit such bad work. He doesn’t know that there are no “gatekeepers” in the art world anymore, that it’s mainly a wonderful chaos…

Rather than really looking at art, he’s focused on the distraction, on celebrity, cash, and crassness.

Saltz moves beyond the repetitive and well worn issues raised by Safer’s piece and addresses the larger context. I like this framing of contemporary art:

Safer told Charlie Rose and Gayle King, “Even Jerry Saltz says 85 percent of the art we see is bad,” adding that he’d suggest that it’s 95 percent. Whatever. I wanted to tell him that the percent I suggested doesn’t only apply to the present. Eighty-five percent of the art made in the Renaissance wasn’t that good either. It’s just that we never see it: What is on view in museums has already been filtered for us. Safer doesn’t get that the thrill of contemporary art is that we’re all doing this filtering together, all the time, in public, everywhere. Moreover, his 85 percent is different from my 85 percent, which is different from yours, and so on down the line until you get to Glenn Beck, who says everything is Communist. No one knows how current art will shake out. This scares some people.

Roberta Smith‘s New York Times response to the Safer piece chimes in with another reminder of the larger view:

No one bothers to explain that even speculators and the superrich don’t stay interested too long unless they have some knowledge of and attraction to art, however you may disagree with their aesthetic choices or be put off by the outrageous prices they are willing to pay.

Have they ruined art? No, they’ve just created their own little art world that has less and less to do with a more real, less moneyed one where young dealers scrape by to show artists they believe in, most of whom are also scraping by. Mr. Safer should visit that one sometime, without the cameras, and try to see for himself, beyond the dollar signs. Either that or he should just come clean: He could not care less about the new or how it makes its way, or doesn’t, into the world and into history. That’s fine.

The obsessions of others are opaque to the unobsessed, and thus easy to mock. Nascar, jazz, baseball, roses, poetry, quilts, fishing. If we’re lucky, we all have at least one.

For those of us who are obsessed and proud to be, the energy just keeps returning to the essential: chop wood, carry water.


Ken Price: Bolivar, Fired and painted clay

Ken Price passed away last week. He was one of the group of under-appreciated West Coast artist from the 60s whose works are finally being given the visibility they have long deserved. (This has been helped immeasurably by the mega-exhibit called Pacific Standard Time which I wrote about extensively on this site back in November 2011.)

Price had just one museum survey of his work during his lifetime—in 1992 at the Menil Collection in Houston. Not without irony, a retrospective is scheduled to open at LACMA in September. Luckily for those of us who do not live in Los Angeles, it is also traveling to the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2013.

From Roberta Smith‘s obituary in the New York Times:

Mr. Price’s greatest achievement may have been to help foment a revolution in ceramics that was in many ways the true genesis of the Southern California art scene. Allied with the ceramic sculptors Peter Voulkos, who was briefly his teacher, and John Mason, he insisted on ceramics as high art — an argument that Mr. Price, a man of few but well-chosen words, left to his sculptures to articulate.

Mr. Price enjoyed sustained critical success, but his penchant for working small and his allegiance to clay sometimes obscured his originality. It became almost reflexive for critics and curators to write that his art was paradoxically celebrated yet underappreciated.

Price showed at the now infamous Ferus Gallery along with other California artists Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, Ed Ruscha, Larry Bell and Craig Kauffman. He had a phalanx of loyal gallerists who continued to show his work even though it did not scream (as did so much art made during that period of time) “look at me!”

From Smith’s piece:

In 2007, the American critic Dave Hickey called Mr. Price “the Glenn Gould of object-makers,” comparing him to the pianist as someone who was “predisposed to step away from the spotlight, similarly driven by meticulous eccentricities and beguiled, as Gould was, by the full, intimate grandeur of his practice…”

If small, his works were still bold in every other way: color, internal scale, visceral effect and associative richness. Even their smallness exuded a nervy, David-against-Goliath confidence. Mr. Price liked to quote the artist Joseph Cornell, whose small boxed assemblages he admired: “Tiny is the last refuge of the enormous.”

And this quote from Price is one worthy of any artist studio wall: “My primary satisfaction comes from making the work, and my idea of success is getting it to look right. So if it looks right, if it has some kind of presence or energy, or comes alive, or has magic—those are all visual things, and it’s very hard to translate those into words.”

And this: “I can’t prove my art’s any good or that it means what I say it means. And nothing I say can improve on the way it looks.”


From the deCordova Biennial, a work by Cambridge-based Joe Zane (Photo: Carroll and Sons Gallery)*

OK. I haven’t seen the show yet. But Sebastian Smee‘s Boston Globe review of the newly-opened deCordova Biennial rang true of so many shows that I have seen lately:

I thought we had outgrown smarty-pants biennials, filled with arcane and self-obsessed art by artists hypnotized by the riddle of their status in the world, and audibly gnashing their teeth over what purposes they might legitimately serve…Actually, most good artists do outgrow this stuff and get on with making art. The trouble is, curators—for whom art-making often remains impenetrably mysterious—still love it. Or think they should love it. And so we have biennials and triennials that overflow with self-consciousness, with worn-out conceptual japes, and with lazy gestures of political consciousness that have all the committed warmth of a dictator waving his gloved hand behind tinted windows.

Wicked yeah.

For my regulars I am repeating yet again. But reading this review brought to mind the quote from Roberta Smith‘s response to a similar show. Her words, like Smee’s, speak to a gap that exists between curators and art makers:

After 40 years in which we’ve come to understand that dominant styles like Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and Pop are at best gross simplifications of their periods, it often feels as though an agreed-upon master narrative is back in place.

What’s missing is art that seems made by one person out of intense personal necessity, often by hand. A lot but not all of this kind of work is painting, which seems to be becoming the art medium that dare not speak its name where museums are concerned.

Her advice to curators is right in line with Smee’s response to the deCordova show:

They have a responsibility to their public and to history to be more ecumenical, to do things that seem to come from left field. They owe it to the public to present a balanced menu that involves painting as well as video and photography and sculpture. They need to think outside the hive-mind, both distancing themselves from their personal feelings to consider what’s being wrongly omitted and tapping into their own subjectivity to show us what they really love.

These things should be understood by now: The present is diverse beyond knowing, history is never completely on anyone’s side, and what we ignore today will be excavated later and held against us the way we hold previous oversights against past generations.

Message to curators: Whatever you’re doing right now, do something else next.

Smee did find a few submissions that offered something to the viewer. His closing line is a keeper: “These promising, good, or interesting things were outnumbered by lightweight gestures of cling film conceptualism—cut off from fresh air, refrigerator-ready, coddled in cleverness.”

I just love this guy. The image is pitch perfect.

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*Here is Smee’s specific response to this work by Joe Zane:

In the main gallery, on the third floor, Joe Zane, a Cambridge-based artist whose work is pretty much the last word in conceptual onanism, has another sign, this one in gold letters affixed to the wall. It reads: “This is not the Biennial I was hoping for.” Reading it, I felt momentarily outflanked, my ungenerous, rube-like thoughts revealed and writ large. But then I registered the bathos of the gesture, and its reliance on that old teenage trope of being forever smarter and more sarcastic than your audience. After which I merely felt tired.


New work, “Snap 1” and “Snap 2” (diptych), in my studio before being shipped out this week

Three critics at the New York Times were given the assignment of naming their favorite paintings in New York Museums. The lists can be found on the New York Times site, but as critic Roberta Smith freely confesses, this was a “pleasant, invigorating yet implicitly arbitrary endeavor. The resulting lists can only be characterized conditionally, as personal, partial or provisional.” So your list is your list, and my list is mine. Fair game.

But being a painter I feel compelled to share an uplifting paragraph from Roberta’s piece. This may sound self serving or like a hackneyed case of preaching to an increasingly smaller choir, but her description of what painting can be has sustained me in my work for a lifetime. (And special thanks to friend Kate Hines for flagging this one):

Paintings, like poetry or music, are essential nutrients that help people sustain healthy lives. They’re not recreational pleasures or sidelines. They are tools that help us grasp the diversity of the world and its history, and explore the emotional capacities with which we navigate that world. They illuminate, they humble, they nurture, they inspire. They teach us to use our eyes and to know ourselves by knowing others.

PS. A general hats off to Roberta is in order since she gets my Best Art Quote of the Year for 2010 award for her defense of painting, especially in the face of art trends that are taking most museums and institutions in the opposite direction. I’ve written about her provocative piece from last February, Post-Minimal to the Max, several times on this blog, but this passage from that article bears up well under repetition:

What’s missing is art that seems made by one person out of intense personal necessity, often by hand. A lot but not all of this kind of work is painting, which seems to be becoming the art medium that dare not speak its name where museums are concerned.

Roberta Smith continues her one-woman campaign (or so it seems—are there others on this bandwagon?) of bringing thoughtful and reasonable thinking to the world of art making, viewing and buying. Like so many other subcultures, this is one that regularly runs off the rails and into the hollers of ego, greed and elitism.

Her recent piece deals with the dicey challenge of museum expansion, in this case the Whitney Museum’s Renzo Piano project for the west end of the meatpacking district. But her article addresses the larger issue that sits right behind the Whitney’s expansion: Why are so many museums so poorly designed for art viewing?

Here’s her brief take on the uptown Whitney:

Its 1966 Marcel Breuer building has all the disadvantages of starchitecture and few if any of the rewards. Even in a country where museums are rarely designed with art in mind, it stands out as relentlessly unforgiving to works of all styles and periods. If the stone floor doesn’t kill, the oppressive overhead concrete structure almost undoubtedly will.

Unlike the Guggenheim, the Breuer building is not considered a must-see destination by tourists, regardless of what shows are on view. And Breuer’s Brutalist bunker is not getting better with age, or inspiring artists to come up with new, exciting uses for it as Wright’s spiral is.

Agreed.

The larger problem of museum design as Smith sees it is fundamental to the infrastructure of influence that seems to be de rigeur for most museums:

Not to diminish the financial and logistical risks of a venture like this, but New York’s recent museum debacles have taught us that space can justify the means. The success of an undertaking like this hinges not on the size but on the quality of the space, which is never thought about enough and never by the people who really know what they’re doing where museums are concerned. The idea that trustees have the final word on a museum’s design, considering all the atrocious buildings that have been erected in this country, is chilling. When will they ever learn to listen, and to people who have the right experience? They would get better spaces if they would loosen the reins.

A new downtown Whitney has to make art look good, make people feel good in it, inspire curators to do their best and give the place some kind of identity — a profile — the way Dia’s old building did. Which is to say that it doesn’t have to have tourist-attracting bells and whistles, as is the case with the Guggenheim (no disrespect intended). It just has to give people a breathtaking, vision-expanding experience of art. This is as much a matter of proportion, openness and light as square footage, as the old Dia proved repeatedly. Its spaces set a standard for display that seems to have been lost in Manhattan, and it was lost, again, because of trustee arrogance and administrative mismanagement that put too many of the Dia’s eggs in its Beacon, N.Y., basket.

So what’s a step in the right direction? Common sense perhaps. Who should the museumologists listen to? Who knows how to make art look good? Clearly the answer is not architects nor is it the trustees. Smith suggests a well chosen committee of artists and dealers to review, comment and (hopefully) influence these projects. For the Whitney, she is quite direct: Hire Larry Gagosian as a consultant. After seeing the Gagosian Gallery’s exhibit of Calder’s work, that choice seemed intuitively obvious to her.

It’s a thought.

Roberta Smith keep the dialogue about contemporary painting current and vital. Regarding that old saw, “painting is dead,” Smith is consistent in her refusal to buy in.

In today’s New York Times Arts section (I refuse to call that part of the paper by its full title, Arts & Leisure since it is irritatingly effete, and the “& Leisure” does, after all, show up in grayscale font) Smith’s latest article, It’s Not Dry Yet, gets the center spot above the fold once again. (I wrote about another Smith piece on painting, Post Minimal to the Max, that held the same position a few weeks back, Do Something Else Next.)

Smith’s latest piece begins with a great set of statements: “Few modern myths about art have been as persistent or as annoying as the so-called death of painting. Unless, of course, it is the belief that abstract and representational painting are oil and water, never to meet as one.”

Smith goes on to track the peculiar history of the connection between abstraction and representation, and more particular, where that relationship has brought us today:

As for representation and abstraction, historically and perceptually they have usually been inseparable. Paintings — like all art — tend to get and hold our attention through their abstract, or formal, energy. But even abstract paintings have representational qualities; the human brain cannot help but impart meaning to form.

There have been moments of dazzling balance between the representational and the abstract — for example, Byzantine mosaics; pre-Columbian and American Indian textiles and ceramics; Japanese screens; Mughal painting; and post-Impressionism.

Painting may be in a similar place right now, fomented mostly, but not always, by young painters who have emerged in the last decade. They feel freer to paint what they want than at any time since the 1930s, or maybe even the 1890s, when post-Impressionism was at its height.

This can’t help but feel like leaven in the loaf of the current art world, a willingness to take painting in every direction. This reminds me of a great line I encountered some time ago but can’t recall who said it: Want to be subversive in the art world today? Just paint.

And Smith takes another swing at it, ending her piece with these two paragraphs:

Old habits die hard. No less a personage than Klaus Biesenbach, the Museum of Modern Art’s new chief curator at large, recently told The Art Newspaper that he preferred the phrase “contemporary practice” to “contemporary art” in order to include fashion, film, design and more. That doesn’t bode well for a phrase like “contemporary painting.”

But what really is questionable, and passé, is the implied ranking of art mediums and the leaving of some of them for dead. None of them ever really, ultimately have much of a monopoly on quality. And something else greatly reduces the chances of the death of painting: too many people — most obviously women — are just beginning to make their mark with the medium and are becoming active in its public dialogue.

Keep those fires stoked ladies.

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A few samples from the 12 images included with the article:


“The Butt” by Ellen Altfest. (Photo: Bill Orcutt, Courtesy of White Cube)

“Pillows” by Raja Ram Sharma. (Photo: Victoria Munroe Fine Art)


Terry Winters, Freeunion (Photo: Matthew Marks Gallery)
Winters was highlighted as one of Carol Diehl’s favorite “overlooked” artists. He’s on my list too.

Over the week since Roberta Smith published her article, Post-Minimal to the Max in the Sunday Times (I wrote about it here) the floodgates opened. Do a search and you will find thousands and thousands of blogs referencing her piece.

The Times chose two letters to publish today:

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Roberta Smith’s powerful article has given me the support that I as a painter desperately need. Reading her article gave me hope that what I have taken on as a personal responsibility for many years still has validity in this universe of big names and entertainment arenas.

People do want to be moved and stirred by new emotions communicated by a canvas.

Thank you, Roberta Smith, for being a true critic.

–Barbara Coleman, New York

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Re “Post-Minimal to the Max” by Roberta Smith [Feb. 14]:

Brava to Roberta Smith. The institutions that are responsible for exposing the public to art are dependent on the minuscule but wealthiest segment of society for support, a fact that has inescapably has reduced art to a reflection of their superficial values — conformity, fashion, wealth, status and power.

Of course the mission of art is to remind a culture of those vulnerable, painful (but essential) truths of human nature that it works relentlessly to suppress. Only individuals, struggling on their own idiosyncratic journey to make peace with the invariable inner conflicts of their own humanity and find personal meaning in their lives, can serve that mission. As a result they will most likely find they are not happily welcomed in the world of pomp and power.

–Bruce Morse, Sharon CT

And here are a few selections from thoughtful bloggers:

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What gives the article its call-to-reason tone is the nature of the moment from which Smith is attempting to right our ship. Her argument is reminiscent of one recently put forth by the White House, attributing the success of Fox News to the simple fact that it is selling the clearest narrative for people to follow. So too in the Art world do we want clarity, and the more others are following something, the less likely will it be a waste of our time to do the same; at least we will have something to say when it comes up in conversation. Here Smith’s article rightly reminds us that the aim of the Arts was never for all of us perceive the same reality. We look for alternative ways of looking, or at least that’s why I got into this racket.

If, as Don Draper says, Happiness is a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that ‘Whatever you’re doing is OK,’ then surely nothing is more annoying than a Times critic who cries for a return to common sense. It is a risky position to take, as such a plea can easily make people feel judged for the fun they are having. To me it sounds like good advice though, for those in the Art world looking to move past the values inherited during the last decade’s proximity to the market.

Ben Wadler
Artcards Review

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The artists Smith would choose to feature are not necessarily those that populate my curatorial fantasies (for instance I’d start with Terry Winters, who has not yet had a solo museum exhibition in New York*) but not to quibble. Smith sums it up when she says, “What’s missing is art that seems made by one person out of intense personal necessity, often by hand.”

Certain readers will take this as meaning that Smith is angling for a return to AbEx or somesuch, but I’ll interpret it my way. Readers of this blog know that I admire the work of Olafur Eliasson, who works with a team of collaborators and rarely executes anything himself, yet the aura of “intense personal necessity” surrounds everything he produces. It is also very highly developed. On the other hand, given how much art one sees that seems only half-realized, it’s important to recognize that process itself—the struggle to execute—can be an important path to new ideas. The stubborn development of technique (and by this I mean not facility, but the ideal vehicle for the concept) can provide the time required to take the art where it needs to go.

Carol Diehl
Carol Diehl’s Art Vent

bruce_high_quality_top
The BHQF, in Bushwick

A small article by Roberta Smith from the New York Times shed some light on the ongoing and ever morphing state of fine arts education. She begins her piece with the now famous quote from Barnett Newman—“Aesthetics is for artists what ornithology is for birds.” And given where things have gone since Newman made that comment so many years ago, Smith posits that now he might say, ‘An artist without a graduate degree is like a fish without a bicycle.’”

Here’s Smith’s overview of where things stand in the world of academic art in 2009:

The professionalization and academicization of the art world has been lamented for some years, but lately they have become epidemic. The recent inflated art market has created the illusion that being an artist is a financially viable calling. Meanwhile art schools and universities — which often provide tenure (safe haven) for artists who may be taken seriously nowhere else — expanded to accommodate the rising number of art students and are now thoroughly invested in keeping these numbers high.

In this context the growing interest among art schools and universities (mostly abroad so far) in offering a Ph.D. in art makes the blood run cold. It also seems like rank, even cynical commercial opportunism. It’s too soon to tell, but I’d like to think that the economic downturn is doing serious damage to this trend and maybe even put budding artists off graduate school entirely.

Her article goes on to highlight the work of a group called the Bruce High Quality Foundation. This unaccredited, free art school or collective (it isn’t clear exactly what it is) was started by “The Bruces,” a group that has chosen to remain unnamed and anonymous. The conventional wisdom is that they are a band of mostly male artists who studied together at Cooper Union with Hans Haacke.

The latest undertaking: The formation of the Bruce High Quality Foundation University, an entity being invented in real time, through collaboration and a “best idea wins” approach.

I loved the hearty hope I felt in the way Smith framed this undertaking: “Like any small group with a good idea, they benefit from the fact that the art world is in many ways one of the least regulated occupational spheres on the planet. As a result it is unusually susceptible, on a local level, to being altered and improved by the actions of a few good men or women.”

Here’s more of what the Bruces have to offer:

The Bruces’ new direction was indicated last July when four of the group’s members gave a lecture-performance…Although accompanied by a series of amusingly pertinent or impertinent slides, the lecture was entirely serious. It diagrammed the links among contemporary art, the market and the art schools producing M.F.A.’s who are burdened by debt but largely naïve about the workings of the art world. It ended with the question: “How can we imagine a sustainable alternative to professionalized art education?”

Bruce High Quality Foundation University is one such imagining. Whether it becomes “the thing itself” remains to be seen, but even as “the idea of the thing” it strikes a blow where one is seriously needed, against the big business of art schools. The university’s first course, which is meeting weekly, is titled Bring Your Own University (B.Y.O.U.). In other words, all those present will “design and implement the administrative policy and curriculum.” Whatever happens, this latest move by the Bruce High Quality Foundation adds inspirational heft to its motto: “Professional problems. Amateur solutions.”

Great motto!