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Thursday 07.14.05

« Virtually Hot off the Presses | Main | Nick Blosser at PDX »

Art and Opinions

Justine Kurland's Twisted Limbs (the Burned Forest), 2004

Ok It is possibly your last chance to see the Justine Kurland show by PICA in the Weiden and Kennedy lobby on Friday the 15th. The building isn't open on the weekends (uggh) and you need to see this work before 6:00 PM when the place locks up. Kurland is probably the best artist affiliated with Yale in the last 15 years (that includes Matthew Barney and her onetime prof Crewdsen). Oh yes and Saturday the 16th is the last day of PICA's Landmark show : NW 13th & Flanders : Open Wed - Sat, 12-6 pm free to PICA members, $2 general. See my PORT review here.

I'm liking The Portland Mercury's new art critic John Motley, here is his Daniel Kaven review, he pays attention to details and whether consistencies and inconsistencies are intentional or not. Kudos.

Last but not least is the Mercury's Chas Bowie who has written quite the head scratcher here about art writing? First off, what group of milquetoasts do you hang out with? Please back up the statement, "public digression runs counter to our natural instincts." I suppose that innately epicurean instinct (i.e. non public) is why blogging and reality TV shows have become so popular?

I wonder what kind of waffletastic weenie crew you have met but the art world is generally opinionated and definitely chatty (catty too). It is what makes it work, everyone agrees to disagree. Yes, money is poisoning "Art" now but it in terms of print it just makes people ignore criticism more selectively. It doesn't silence the criticism, it just makes it disconnected for a time being. After the market correction one looks prescient.

Yes some craven toadies edit themselves but people like Roberta Smith, Jerry Saltz, Christopher Knight and Tyler Green call it like they see it. From my own experience, when Robert Storr asked me what I thought of his Site Santa Fe show, I told him. We talked over some divergent points and amicably went our merry ways... absolutely no awkward silences.

When I wrote a review for Modern Painters that basically tore apart the collective efforts of reasonably powerful curators like Ralph Rugoff and Matthew Higgs, Lisa Corrin etc. for the dull, badly premised Baja to Vancouver show my reviews editor's response was "nice f-ing review " and they printed the thing without alterations. I liked some parts of the show and gave credit where credit was due too. It's true British mags are more critical but Art Forum's review was only slightly more forgiving.

Also, I'm not certain what art world you are in, but taking shots at Matthew Barney was pretty much the standard ice breaker for conversations a few years ago. Now it's the overheated market. Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one and it's more about how one backs up that opinion that matters.

Art writing is tough for other reasons, the pay is generally lousy and it is difficult to enthusiastically sort the crud from the gems day in and day out. What the art world needs are better ideas after running on fumes and hedge fund money for too long.

P.S. Banks Violette is no where near as interesting as Sue de Beer who relies more on noir's dread and excitement rather than kitsch and funhouse design.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on July 14, 2005 at 22:13 | Comments (8)


I've never met Chas Bowie, but this being Portland I would guess that he is hanging out with the same milquetoast, waffletastic weenie crew as you are. You know, the artists who have all kinds of chatty and catty things to say to each other but would never dare make a public comment. Take this site for example- lots of posts, but very few substantive comments in response. In fact, you seem to be your own most frequent commenter (no surprise there).

Oh, and I don't know what art world you are in, but taking jabs at Matthew Barney is definitely back in (retro jabbing has been all the rage since last Friday and will last until the end of September, when dated expressions (i.e. "opinions are like assholes...") will become stylish again.

Good luck with the site and your efforts as discussion catalyzer.

Posted by: stephencleary [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 15, 2005 10:24 AM

I'd like to go out on a big fat limb and say I think Banks Violette is just a big snore. I don't understand what all the fuss is about having seen a serving of it at PS1 recently.

Posted by: carolyn [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 15, 2005 11:10 AM

I don't know even know where to start. Well, that's not true - on reading Bowie's article I was driven in a furious rage to send a letter to the Mercury - which they will no doubt ignore. Anyway - let's start simply:

Banks Violette is a man.

I repeat: Banks Violette is a M-A-N.

If you're going to "hammer out" a 1,500 word essay on an artist in what is "one of the biggest moments" of your career, I'd hope that you'd do a little more research on the artist.

Thank you Jeff for saying something substantial in your criticism:

"Banks Violette is no where near as interesting as Sue de Beer who relies more on noir's dread and excitement rather than kitsch and funhouse design."

That's a hell of a lot more valid than:

Banks Violette is "a big snore" or "completely dull and derivative". HOT AIR, nothing more, nothing less.

Posted by: MOR [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 15, 2005 12:15 PM

Stephen, as usual the results disprove your welcome hypotheses...plenty of discussion already and you might notice I merely answer when people ask a question. Responding is part of moderating.

Also the waffels arent a group I hang with....actually, Portland has a lot of cliques like any decent or indecent place full of people.

Back on topic Portland is a city that opens its mouth more often than not these days and New York certainly isnt a shy place either. People who like art generally have opinions and I'm with Cicero on the idea that presenting them publicly is good. Bowie and I agree on that point and I think that it is the important one.

Posted by: sheriff jeff [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 15, 2005 01:19 PM

Jeff, I'll start my comments off with a true compliment. You are the only art critic in town I look forward to reading, as you heed my advice and look like an ass on a consistent basis. It makes for good reading.

Secondly: As MOR pointed out, I confused Banks Violette's gender. I hope MOR's rage has subsided somewhat, especially since I wasn't writing about Violette specifically, but only using his career as a placeholder for a hot artist du jour. (Still, I wish I had gotten that one right the first time around).

Jeff, I truly don't believe that you are confused by the notion that public digression runs counter to our natural instincts. While you may pride yourself on being more enlightened than this, humans are tribal beings at their core, and any historian, sociologist, or psychologist can tell you that social rejection and banishment ranks among the most severe punishments that can be inflicted. (See: Masaccio's Expulsion From the Garden of Eden, Jack Henry Abbot's Belly of the Beast, etc). Even when we voice our opposition to predominant sentiments, we are usually operating wthin accepted alternative public ideas, or hoping to be praised for our courage in speaking up. So yes, social preservation is an inate instinct that even you are not cool enough to deny.

As for running with a crew of milquetoasts - I don't run with any crew at all. Never have.

Rereading your post, it sounds as if you agree with my thesis, and have only chosen to pick at fundamental human embarassments that most people don't own up to. Having read your writings for several years, I believe that you censor your criticisms far less than most writers, which I admire. But to hold that idea up as one that is ludicrous is transparent and naive.

Maybe we should pretend that nobody worries about their imagined audience when writing about art, and encourage more pople to churn ot the same, safe, listless "criticism" that we see everywhere. Or we can talk about the fact that you have to go out on a limb and express unpopular sentiments when writing about art for it be the least bit engaging and relevant.

PS - MOR, it's nice to see you growing a set now that you've left the state.

Posted by: Chas Bowie [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 15, 2005 02:10 PM

Hmmm..what did I grow? Cremaster muscles?

Just as Chas is tired of the "same, safe, listless "criticism" that we see everywhere" I'm tired of critics writing about artists when they don't bother to learn anything about them.

I'm also tired of critics writing about work in a field, genre or style that they don't personally like and pretending that their dislike has anything to do with theory or criticism. (historical example: Kramer's review of Tuttle's 1976 Whitney show)

This is a flawed example, but take it for the part that isn't. Would a food critic spend time writing about the terrible fennel salad at an italian joint without disclosing that they've always hated fennel?

I couldn't agree more about the "hot artist du jour" crap, It makes me ill. But that's the art-world, not the art or the artist and why does one artists' success make other artists SO angry? What's wrong with us?

And while I'm asking why, why does Phillip Morris fund EVERYTHING? Is "Altria" some kind of plot to make American arts funding dependent on the cigarette industry?

Posted by: MOR [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 15, 2005 02:55 PM

As Iggy Pop would say, the proof is in the pudding:

42 articles to comment on
15 comments/replies by PORT writers
10 comments from out of state
11 comments from Portland (generously...only a couple of people actually say they are from Portland).

July (prior to yesterdays post)
14 articles to comment on
1 comment from PORT
2 comments from out of state
0 from Portland

As for substance, I think MB's comment on your Disjecta post had the most teeth.

Although I would agree with you, Chas and Cicero (whoever SHE is), that public comment is a good thing, it hasn't happened in Portland yet. We'll have to wait and see if the very opinionated (in private) artists of Portland warm up to posting on a public forum site like this one.

Visitors to PORT should know that they can remain pretty much anonymous (at least to other visitors) when posting their comments.

Best of luck.

Posted by: stephencleary [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 16, 2005 09:43 PM

I would like to clarify some of the issues about posting online. We at PORT count among our goals inciting critical discussion about art. We expect that some of this discussion will take place in the context of the site and some will happen in the traditional manner, between two or more parties debating in the "real world". Anyone is welcome to comment on our site after completing a simple registration with TypeKey (a subsidiary of Moveable Type who provides the functionality for this site). Your email address will be available to the public via your Typekey profile and if you include your URL, this will be linked to your name under the comment. When we feel someone isn't playing fair, we reserve the right to edit or delete their comments. This is only done as a last resort when we feel that personal or professional boundaries have been crossed.

Portland is a small city with many familiar faces which makes a public discussion a bit more risky. We appreciate those who are brave enough to put their ideas on the line to be tested and retorted. As time goes on and the site and our readership gain more ground, it is almost certain that more controversial subjects will arise that will inspire spicy online debate. We hope that all of our readers feel invited to contibute to the discussion.

If you have any questions about our policies or philosophies, you can contact us using the link in the left menu; we're happy to engage with you. As rule of thumb, stick to interesting intellectual debate and avoid catty comments and cheap shots. Now, play ball!

Posted by: jenn [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 17, 2005 12:19 AM

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