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Wednesday 08.10.05

« South Beach Showing | Main | Keeping up and walking »

Banks Violette the blunted extremist

It looks as if the combination of Banks + Violette + Crap is a magical Google algorithm trifecta driving lots of traffic to PORT. We only mentioned him briefly but apparently there is a partially sated hunger for the topic and PORT hears you. Feel free to describe exactly how, why and what Violette sucks in our comment section...

Unfortunately, we aren't one of those pandering sites and I'm pleased to inform y'all Mr. Violette doesn't quite suck.. He doesn't quite "rock" as hard as Artnet has recently suggested though. Instead, Banks Violette is just another decent showman in the recent spate of decent entertainers with shows originated in New York museums; Matthew Barney, James Lee Bryars and Tim Hawkinson etc.

All traffic in fantasy as a diversion and there is nothing wrong with it… but there is nothing life changing about it either.

Overall, Barney and Violette's somewhat lesser ubiquity has been greased by an increasing need for digestible fantastical showmanship which drives greater audience attendance at museums.

Sure, Violette takes some of the darker parts of heavy metal subculture and creates odd, somewhat evocative memorials to counterculture behavior taken to felonious extremes. It is sincere bad boy art, but any historian 50 years from now is going to find the actual stories of ritualized murder and Norwegian church burning to be the more telling artifacts, not these installations.

In many ways Violette is just trading in a short term aura of contemporary obsessions (evil, heavy metal etc…) which in the current Whitney show's case centers around the story of several Norwegian metal bands attempting to out evil one another. Murders and church burnings occurred.

Yes, the story provokes a "no way… really that happened?" reaction but it is a red herring. The murderous Norwegian metal bands are really just analogs for the looming specter of those Isamic extremists who similarly take their beliefs way outside the mainstream and become terrorists. Basically, Violette is beating around the bush, making a slightly less threatening version of terrorism in the Whitney.

My take is that Violette is a kind of 3rd tier Matthew Barney (a kind of over-popular 2nd tier Salvador Dali type showman himself). Both rely on pageantry.

Violette is very indebted to Barney who takes arcane information popular in all sorts of subcultures be it Busby Berkley follies, architecture, Houdini, Mormonism, heavy metal and Irish legends and mixes it up with a lot of effort, slow panning and tapioca.

Compared to Barney, Violette is less capricious (and expensive) and focuses on misspent youth, evil and heavy metal rather than gender bending. Like Barney Violette has quirky material fetishes and his current Whitney show sports the skeleton of a burnt out church constructed of salt and resin… I suppose a burnt tapioca church wouldn't work? In the end I'm left feeling more entertained than challenged by these busy ambitious artists.

That is OK but since this is a rant… Sue De Beer does this kind of edgy youth with a touch of Noir thing a lot more convincingly than Violette and it will be interesting if the upcoming Whitney Biennial (being curated now) will continue this trend towards entertaining youthful fantasy and nostalgia in the face of a world that seems to scream impotently at very easy to pin point but tough to solve problems.

I'm not advocating all sorts of half-assed political art but I think a general frankness could raise its ugly but noble head at the Whitney in 2006? The Venice Biennale was overtly political and that doesn't need to be repeated either.

Resistance takes lots of forms… and at least nobody seems to differentiate abstraction and figurative art or high and low culture any more.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on August 10, 2005 at 7:54 | Comments (2)


First, I just want to express my thrill at the existence of PORT and congratulate all involved for a consistently thoughtful and thought-provoking site. As a an ex long term Portland resident, it is terrific to visit Port and see how the art community is thriving and coming into its own.
So, I guess I take the Banks Violette bait. I am no critic, but is entertainment so bad? Is it irresponsible? It is a fact of contemporary life. I confess that, after being thrilled with the potential I saw in Violette at the last Whitney Biennial, I have been dissapointed in subsequent offerings. Every season needs its golden boy/whipping post. What interests me more are the implications of the apparent thirst for the baroque pageantry of the likes of Violette, Barney, Bryars, et. al. Is it really popular, or just manufactured as such through critical attention? I would agree that the goth-Nordic dramas that Violette's work references, rather than the work itself, will provide future (art) historians specifically enlightening insight into contemporary social machinations (at least of the subcultural variety, which is always far more revealing of a time's psychological tendencies).
There are a variety of what I suppose are obvious reasons for this popularity-a distraction from reality, the external manifestation of internal anxiety/hate/confusion. In this vein, I see a connection to "termite" and glitter art, lots of DIY types sitting in their studios churning out obsessive little repeated shapes to somehow control this strange 21st century tension. Also, what of this fondness for lost youth. The byproduct of aging young guns, losing their footing in a youth obsessed culture? I confess, however, that if I seek escape, distraction and entertainment, I would rather it be of the Banks and Superflat variety than the latest "reality" t.v. show. Fun food for thought.
My real reason for posting, however, is that I simply take issue with the inclusion of Tim Hawkinson in this bunch. I will agree that there is an element of entertainment, but in his case, I find that to be a wonderful way to lure the viewer into more thoughtful reflection. Hawkinson is arguably an artist's artist. As process and materials are essential and obvious elements of the final product, what at first appears spectacle upon closer inspection becomes "I can do that!" His work for this viewer is always about the body and what it is capable of, potential as opposed to limitation. The humility and occasional simplicity of materials is not really about the other (as in other showmen) but about the self. Think globally, act locally? Who knows. I just know that when I leave a Barney or a Violette piece, I feel a little hollow. When I leave a Hawkinson, I feel alive, connected, and like I can do anything. Cheezy, yes, but true.

Posted by: joewbrown [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 11, 2005 09:52 AM

Thanks for the kind and thoughtful words joe.

I agree, I prefer Violette to Survivor and the taste for baroque pagentry is interesting. I think the show that Phillipe Vergne and Katherine Kanjo created "Let's Entertain" was precient. I belive it was at the portland art museum in 2000.

That said Let's Entertain was only riffing on the YBA's and Superflat. Still, It remains the most influential show on portland art to date, both in acceptance and in resistance. If I were to curate the Whitney Biennial that is possibly the theme I'd take, "acceptance/resistance".

Nothing wrong with entertainment but I like it better when it goes a bit deeper than that. Superflat is more than just enterainment because it constantly evokes the trauma of nuclear warfare and pop as the language of international trade. Brilliant.... that's why Superflat is important and Violette seems more like a quotidian paint by subculture reference exercise. Murakami points out the Otaku rules then breaks them by stiving for more in his admittedly doomed exercise. Violette plays by the rules and makes them visible to a new audience. Also, his sincere fan-like devotion lacks Murakami's cultural critique.

Artists who refer to obscure or sub cultures are nothing new, it is almost uninteresting. Ever since Gauguin, exoticism has been a part of the "cutting edge" strategy. Picasso painted brothels in Les Dem's and Manet did so before him with Olympia. Warhol worked with the famous, another subculture.

Still, Violette seems to "quote" the subculture more directlly than even Warhol would have. Maybe it suffers from literalness?

As far as Tim Hawkinson goes, I think he leaves you with a different feeling partly because he is a west coast artist. (take a look at this

The WC tends to be less neurotic and inward... when you have earthquakes and erupting volcanos (like Portland currently has) it tends to take your focus off of how stupid and rich Paris Hilton is. (in LA rich and stupid isnt even a crime!)

What I like about the WC is we cant take ourselves too seriously. If we are just ants, why not be happy ants? Closer to home, I like how Portland has such an involved citizenry... we might be ants but we want a nice hive! We aren't the center of the world but it is one rather wonderful corner of it. That said Im going camping, on a volcano or two tonight.

Posted by: sheriff jeff [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 13, 2005 01:45 PM

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