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Thursday 06.19.14

« Monday Links | Main | Monday Links »

Distinguishing Wolves & Coyotes

Wolf,_voor_de_natuur,_Saxifraga_-_Jan_Nijendijk.5097.jpg
Wolf, voor de natuur, Saxifraga - Jan Nijendijk.5097

Two must read writings this week by two different critics seem to be pointing in a similar direction, namely the one where critical thinking goes beyond simply creating "dialog" and takes a harder nosed approach. Jerry Saltz's exegesis on "Zombie Formalism" or "Crapstraction" levies full critical weight on the shruggy gesturing work we see everywhere from Portland to New York City. No scene is immune. Personally I'm proud to have pissed off plenty of dilettante tin-eyed zombie Greenbergs who want to believe that drop cloth or tarp paintings are anything but predictable rehashings of the late 60's and early 70's rendered with a very slight emo twinge of failure mongering and self pity. It is art that tries to present itself as a victim of art history... and critically that shouldn't give you a particularly good career. Jerry rightfully asks everyone to please step up their game. He isn't merely picking on mid-level artists who are suffering for their work (as some artists have characterized this)... he's letting you know your market bubble will pop very soon. Jerry cares. That's the difference between a real critic and a mere arts writer... a true critic will tell you when you are about to drive off a cliff, the arts writer simply collects a check and will write your obit and couldn't be happier whatever the outcome as long as they get paid and their friends are happy.

The second piece is a review by Jed Perl of Sigmar Polke's MoMA retrospective. Perl is a critic whom I normally find to be a too reactionary in his tone but somehow his cranky fervor (cranky is a good thing for critics) finds the right target by pointing out how the curator steps back from the monstrous uneveness that Polke presents. This lack of commitment to the scarier and more inconsistent aspects on the institutional side is part of what is allowing the less ambitious Zombie Formalists in Jerry's article to thrive. IE if you can't critique Polke provocative capriciousness you certainly cant expect very much from his mini-me's.

It is true though that painting itself has its own zombie like qualities, be it abstraction or figuration. The difference is the good stuff has at least a few sharp teeth that lift the work above decor accessories (ie merely pleasant appearances). Polke and Gerhard Richter both had some teeth.

In both cases I liken the situation to an unbalanced ecosystem that is full of coyotes with no wolves (Like Yellowstone once was). Sometimes greatness needs to travel in smaller packs that distinguish themselves and don't merely scavenge. It is good for the ecosystem, and yes even the coyotes benefit when the somewhat bolder pack of artists (it is rarely just one) bring down a big moose of an idea.

That isn't what is happening now and it is the reason why most of the serious critics are making a stink. Not because we think it will change the overall picture but because we believe that some people are bright enough to read the writing on the wall.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on June 19, 2014 at 16:31 | Comments (0)


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