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Archive for the ‘Abstract Expressionism’ Category

Shamma, Aivazovsky, Kuczyński, and the $45,000,000 “Blue Rectangle on Yellow Rectangle”

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Moonlight on the Bosphorus – Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky

 

Kuczyński

Kuczyński

Yellow Rectangle Blue Rectangle:  On May 13, 2015, Mark Rothko sold a painting, “Untitled (Yellow and Blue),” for excess of $45 million dollars. The (un)title speaks for itself, and I’ve expressed my sentiment here:  Rothko vs. Nature.

Rothko

The Aesthetic:  Exquisite craft, talent, and a unique vision. Rothko arguably had the latter. To contrast, consider Damascus born Sara Shamma, the Polish artist Pawel Kuczyński, and the Russian Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky.

Written by Caleb Powell

July 17, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Mark Rothko vs. Nature

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David Shields and Caleb Powell arguing over Rothko and nature, from the film I Think You're Totally Wrong  - photo courtesy Rabbit Bandini Productions

David Shields and Caleb Powell, at Lake Arrowhead, debate the qualities of nature and art, from the film I Think You’re Totally Wrong – photo courtesy Rabbit Bandini Productions

David Shields on Mark Rothko:  “I listened to a tour guide at the National Gallery ask his group what made Rothko great. Someone said, ‘The colors are beautiful.’ Someone else mentioned how many books and articles had been written about him. A third person pointed out how much people had paid for his paintings. The tour guide said, ‘Rothko is great because he forced artists who came after him to change how they thought about painting.’ This is the single most useful definition of artistic greatness I’ve ever encountered.” – from Reality Hunger

Rothko21 Rothkos:  Rothko may well have changed how artists think. Good thing? Take a look at the 21 Rothkos on the right, all replications of the same concept. Rothko had modest skills, above average talent, but recognized his lack. He chose the path of “Look at me! I’m different!” Variety has a place, but.

From Pollock to Frankenthaler to Eva Hess to Jeff Koons to Tracey Emin, Rothko led chunks of the art world  into both riches and a pretentious mess (See the $45,000,000 rectangle.) For every Rothko there are thousands aspiring for Egregious Difference and deadening the world. And that’s how Rothko changed art.

A Thousand Words:  Enough words, let the pictures speak.

Written by Caleb Powell

November 2, 2014 at 8:03 am

The Shirts of Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell vs. Jackson Pollock

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血洗净城 - Blood Washes the Capital

血洗京城 – Blood Washes the Capital (鄧 =Deng Xiaoping)

“WHAT makes an artist great? Brilliant composition, no doubt. Superb draughtsmanship, certainly. Originality of subject or of concept, sometimes. But surely true greatness means that the creator of a painting has brought a certain je ne sais quoi to the work as well.”The Economist

In the tradition of Chimpanzee or not Chimpanzee, I’ve assembled  Jackson Pollocks. Certainly no child, chimp, or artist could replicate them? Or could they? Pollock’s defenders often claim that his works cannot be replicated. And to the naked eye this may be so, but what about the discerning critic, specifically, the art collector willing to pay millions of dollars to own an original. Well, turns out Pollock can be copied to the extent that even the “experts” can be fooled.

Yankee Pot Roast:  If Jackson Pollock Wrote Poetry.

The Economist: “(The) art market pretends that great artists are inimitable, and that this inimitability justifies the often absurd prices their work commands. Most famous artists are good: that is not in question. But as forgers like van Meegeren and Pei-Shen Qian, the painter who turned out Ms Rosales’s Rothkos and Pollocks, show, they are very imitable indeed…Expensive pictures are primarily what economists call positional goods—things that are valuable largely because other people can’t have them…Ms Rosales’s career is thus a searing social commentary on a business which purports to celebrate humanity’s highest culture but in which names are more important than aesthetics and experts cannot tell the difference between an original and a fake. Unusual, authentic, full of meaning—her life itself is surely art, even if the paintings were not.”

Go ahead! Click and pick your Pollocks. To finish this mini-jeremiad on abstract work, I offer an abstract conclusion:  Pollocks may be more valuable or interesting than the T-shirts of Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell, but the T-shirts have gone much further on less.

Jagger

Jagger

Tom Wolfe Sticks Piet Mondrian’s Stick Art

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“All profoundly original work looks ugly at first.” – Clement Greenberg

“All ugly work looks ugly at first.” – Anonymous

“Frankly, these days, without a theory to go with it, I can’t see a painting.” – Tom Wolfe

The surrounding lines and colored quadrangles are “works” by Piet Mondrian. They speak.

“The notion that the public accepts or rejects anything in modern art … is merely romantic fiction….The game is completed and the trophies distributed long before the public knows what has happened.” – Tom Wolfe

Observe the descent or rise of art from Modernists to Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art to Op Art to Minimalism. Take Neo-Plasticism, originating 100 years ago, Mondrian, and the De Stijl art movement. Then Pollock, Rothko, Frankenthaler et al, competent but not good enough, they explored other directions. Their ilk repeats versions of the same with “individual” flourishes, moving art, supposedly, as the elite collect and promote. The debate is whether this advances society. Tom Wolfe , to paraphrase from The Painted Word, noted that 400 art critics suffice to create enough steam for an artist to become absolutely rich, but for the literary artist, no matter how beautiful the written word, without mass appreciation there is little hope for financial success.

“But nobody is visually naïve any longer. We are cluttered with images, and only abstract art can bring us to the threshold of the divine.”― Dominique De Menil, The Rothko Chapel: Writings on Art and the Threshold of the Divine

Written by Caleb Powell

March 21, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Yayoi Kusama vs. Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell

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草間 弥生 vs. 魏嵦毅

Qi Lin (1997)

Qi Lin (1997) – 魏嵦毅

Yayoi Kusama (草間 弥生) is a very strange woman. Very very strange. She may be a genius, a demented quack, or just an orange-haired Japanese woman dressed in black with gold dots enveloped in a milieu of self-mimetic art. On the positive side, she refused to conform to Japanese cultural prescriptions on art. On the negative side, she influenced Andy Warhol. On the positive, she influenced Andy Warhol. On the negative, she’s MC Escher in color sans devious geometric logic. On the positive side, well…I’m not really sure…I’m wont to obliquely taunt her admirers, as done previously regarding Paul Doran, Helen Frankenthaler, Tracey Emin, and  Clyfford Still. Their ilk produces schlock and lacks rigid attainment of perfection. Yet Kusama mesmerized and troubled. What to do about this woman, born in 1929, who diverged from Oriental traditions and influenced abstract and modern artists more associated with the West?

Butterfly Reminiscences (1980)

Butterfly Reminiscences (1980) – 魏嵦毅

Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell (魏嵦毅 aka Cove Loon) born in New Jersey five years after Ms. Kusama, learned technique during the 50s at Cooper Union, but she did not find her groove until she graduated and lived in Asia for four years. She fell in love with calligraphy and water color.

A  match for Kusama? On the positve side, my mother not only paints competently but speaks, reads, and writes Chinese, which she incorporates into her work. On the negative side, as partly explained in her battle with Breugel the Elder, she lacks discipline and commitment to perfection.

Qi Lin Error:  Take notice on the Qi Lin above, second column from the right and the fifth character down. She attempted to write 北京 (Beijing), yet muffed her brush stroke of , and thus drew a line through the mistake.

Sally's Cake House (1987)

Sally’s Cake House (1987) – 魏嵦毅

Egregious or forgivable?  Well, for a human, I would say the latter. I make typos in self-indulgent blogs. But location and timing of presentation matters. Botched calligraphy does not complement a classical Chinese creature. Friends and family may not care, and I’m not sure my father (the main curator of the works of Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell) noticed, but it just ain’t perfect. And that’s a kick in the ol’ sensorial gut.

Perfection aestetic? Ms. Kusama takes different risks, but a misplaced dot not only is undetectable, but any blemish or flaw can be said to be intentional. And that’s my concern with abstract art, perfection is taken out of the aesthetic. Conceptual art often hides lack of talent. Who is the better artist? Kusama or Powell? When I started writing this I thought Powell would clobber Kusama, whom I lumped with other Pollock-o-whackophiles. Yet I dare say it’s tough not to stare at the Kusamas. Therefore, I cannot give the nod to dear ol’ mom, and thus call it a draw.

Mom in Paris (Jan. 2013)

Mom in Paris (Jan. 2013)

Bruegel the Elder vs. Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell

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Tower of Babel

Brief Bio Part II – More Boring Stuff: (From Brief Bio I) While in New York my father, in the Navy Reserves, was called to active duty and sent to Taiwan and then Saigon. My mother, at the time, was a grad student at Columbia and writing her dissertation with perhaps six months of work to attain her Ph.D. She chose to postpone her degree and join my father in a decision that can be seen as a metaphor for much of her work. She never finished her dissertation.  My mother stayed in Taiwan, where she taught Mandarin at the Taipei International School.

Half-Castle

Competition: But how does having an “EBD” (Everything but dissertation) become a metaphor? Because my mother lacks the gene that drives successful artists to create until completion. In previous posts my mother has taken on Paul Doran, Helen Frankenthaler, and Clyfford Still, and her technique has handily defeated them. However, beating those three replicates an adult winning a tennis tournament against 8-year-olds. To paint better than Pollock or Rothko or Motherwell eludes the point. Their whole shtick depends on the shock value of not aspiring to the heights of technique. When it comes to abstract expressionism and similar disciplines, mental energy focuses on conceptual ambiguities that escape the interest of many, and thus comparing Beatrice Powell to them is, as I like to hammer redundantly and self-indulgently, comparing Apples to Orangutans. (Apples and orange are both round sweet fruit, they are similar, so why not compare apes to apes and fruit to fruit and find a new cliché?) I do not respond to Pollock & company, but I realize that many people do, thus the exorbitant pricetags of their work. And this pisses me off.

Anyway, I diverge and die…gress. I’m trying to pay homage to the greatest painters. How would my mother fair against, say, Pieter Bruegel the Elder?

Caricatures

Bruegel suffered to paint. His life was his art, it was not a hobby, a part time whim or fancy; art consumed him 100% of the time. He kept painting, seeking an illusive redemption. There is no romanticizing or exaggeration, in the 45 years or so that he lived, and by the less than 50 canvasses that remain of his work from the 16th Century, he became, without hyperbole, a master.

My mother, ah, my mother. Look at her two paintings sandwiched between the Bruegels. The “Half-Castle” illustrates her unfinished “finished” painting. “Caricatures” is a hoot, but the white spaces remain. These watercolors show how she often loses the fire and hunger mid-painting.  My mother has not suffered to paint. She is happy. This can lead to complacency and, dare I say, laziness. She has had moments of dedication and hunger and study, especially in her youth, but as with her Ph.D., art was never that important too her. She chose family and happiness, and I love her for that. Who could blame her? I admire her talent, and yet, the artist in me wonders where she would be if she had been consumed more by art.

Dulle Griet

Art Criticism: Vice Magazine vs. Big Other

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The mug of beer represents Manu. Now that’s art!

The fact that the latest round of proposals for the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square included Tracey Emin’s idea for a little group of sculpted meerkats as “a symbol of unity and safety” reconfirms what everyone already knows: that it is possible to gain a reputation as a serious and important artist on the basis of work devoid of seriousness and importance.” – Geoff Dyer

This is a Tracey Emin…

              

Manu vs. Tracey Emin

The other day at 24-Hour Fitness we’re warming up shooting hoops, and my friend Manu walks in, bouncing a ball, gyrating his hips, doing his best Sir Mix-A-Lot, saying, “There’s a girl outside dribbling a ball like she’s practicing for the bedroom. Woo! Woo!” My man Jerome starts cracking up as if this is the second coming of Eddie Murphy. I tell them, “I don’t know who I’m more pissed off at, Manu for telling that turd, or Rome for laughing at it.” Now, Manu’s a cool dude, he has game, and on the humor side his delivery ain’t bad, he’s got a certain shmoo quality worth a chuckle, but he’s a long way from auditioning for comedian. But Rome or anyone laughing at such schlock only encourages more schlock and gives Manu the illusion he is funny. Don’t encourage schlock!

…and this is another. Seriously. Manu is funnier than Emin, and probably a better artist, whatever that means.

This same dynamic is at work in art such as that by Tracey Emin and her posse of overrated artists, the weird, rich, anti-talented doofs that somehow garner attention and money. It goes back years, to the befuddling success of  Warhol, Pollock (Yankee Pot Roast captures my opinion), Frankenthaler, Still,  etc.  I classify Tracey Emin as a parallel mystery.

Vice Magazine, an international site read by millions, satirized Emin: I’m Sick of Pretending: I Don’t “Get” Art. The visuals displayed didn’t need captions, and the finale cogently illuminated the difference between art and “art.” (See: I Still Don’t “Get” Art & OK, Do It: Teach Me How to “Get” Art)

Big Other, a literary “agree-fest,” questioned Vice author Glen Coco with:  “I Don’t Get Art.”  Basically, Vice Mag demolished Tracey Emin, and Big Other man James Todd Adcox volleyed with a “don’t make fun of art unless you try to understand and engage” shtick balanced with a “people take pride announcing that they don’t get art. It’s a particularly easy way of being culturally brave.” No. It’s a way of being fucking sane. Now, I enjoy the crew at Big Other, and drop in on the blog every now and then, but really bad art needs to be called out.

Sure, Vice was unsophisticated, but so? The artist needs to hone in on what should be taken seriously, what promotes culture and humanity, and what doesn’t. What Geoff Dyer said. Tracey Emin lowers the bar, her work should be execrated, desecrated, and eviscerated. Vice didn’t go far enough.  I’m angry at Big Other in the same way I’m angry at Rome. Don’t encourage schlock!

Further:  Brian Sewell’s best cutting critiques – in quotes

Art:  John Martin’s “The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah”

Written by Caleb Powell

June 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm