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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.




The Value of Eva Hesse

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Eva Hess at...

Eva Hesse’s “Hang Up” at the Art Institute of Chicago w/my sister, nephews, and niece

“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

Cooper Union Alumni:  My parents attended school at Cooper Union in the fifties where they met another couple, Socrates and Susi Litsios. My mother Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell, Susi Litsios, and Eva Hesse all studied Fine Art and knew one another. This summer my father went to Chicago, took the above shot, and sent an email to friends and family. Arguments followed.

Heated Words: Susi responded at my previous post on Helen Frankenthaler. She summed up, “Dave (my father) did not choose one of Eva Hesse’s best pieces, but WOW think of how happy your kids would be to inherit it.” So who is Eva Hesse? The question led to a discussion of value, my mother’s art, and the “you get it or you don’t” defense. First, though, Eva Hess.

Eva Hesse died in 1970 at the age of 34. She fled Germany and the Nazis with her family. Her works are currently displayed at these venues:  Art Institute of Chicago, Daros Collection, Zurich; Museum of Modern Art, Museum Wiesbaden, Germany; National Gallery, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art.

Before the Fall, Woodcut by Susan Litsios

The Value of Value:  Hesse’s works are now worth millions. Why? When the reasons to own a work are their resale value, what does that say about the work? Monet originals are also worth millions, but inexpensive Monet reprints are ubiquitous. I’d be curious to see how popular a Hesse knockoff would be.

You Get It or You Don’t:  This phrase evades the need to think. Follow the creed of intellectual triage, satisfy curiosity, life is short, and when “it” is not worth getting, why pursue?

Offense Taken – Offense Intended:  My mother is talented but lazy and insufficiently inspired, thus Susi thought it offensive and arrogant to compare famous artists to my mother, who “…has never confronted the wretched gallery system, or the real and unpitying art world.”

Exactly: I find it offensive that certain artists transform the art world with schlock. Especially in the age of genocide and massive human rights calamity. The high end art world has become the realm of the ultra rich and the sycophant. Tracey Emin and Frankenthaler and Hesse are an escape, and have failed to push society anywhere worthwhile. That art too often does nothing or renders an irrelevant voice is a shame and deserves excoriation.

Eva Hesse

Counterpoint:  Susi wrote a spirited response, full of doubt (the sign of a thinking mind), and defended her  aesthetic. She thinks Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst pure poppycock (we agree), she appreciates Dali’s craft but despises his persona (we agree), and she is taken away by Rothko (we disagree).

The Joy of Art:  Susi writes, “At Cooper I did not know that I contained this passion; and I was kind of surprised at the intensity with which it controlled so much of my life…Generally speaking, I don’t talk about what I do, but do it.  I have worked pretty much every day I could for the last forty years.  I will never be as famous as Franz Kline or Pollock, but fame and fortune are not something you can really look for. Working in my studio is what I like doing best, it is as simple as that.”

Susi’s art has been displayed at some of the best galleries in Switzerland, her home for over forty years, along with being displayed in museums and prestigious collections, and this gave her many delightful contacts. The fact she is an American woman and made inroads in Switzerland, where woodcutting is dominated my men, has also been no small feat. She added, “I have not ever, nor will I ever, make anything just because I think it will sell. Nor do I speculate on other people’s work.”

Letting Art Speak on It’s Own?  It does, it does.

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.


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?


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

Paul Doran vs. Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell

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Brief Bio, Part I – The Boring Stuff: Beatrice Joan Wilson met David Powell at Cooper Union in the 50s. She graduated with a degree in Fine Art, and he in Civil Engineering. After graduation David Powell joined the US Navy and was sent to Guam. While living on Guam the Powells took a vacation to Japan, and while there Beatrice fell in love with Oriental art and language. After four years in Guam the Powells returned to New York City, David got a graduate degree at NYU and Beatrice went to  Columbia University to study Chinese language and Chinese art. Her painting above: New Diamond Restaurant.

Cooper Union has a credible program in the arts, its graduates include Jackson Pollock’s wife, Lee Krasner, as well as Eva Hesse and Milton Glaser. At Cooper Union Beatrice had an experimental and abstract expressionist phrase. These paintings are still on the wall of her house, as seen in the YouTube video below. This nonsense passed as she later pursued techinically difficult art over simple form. Previously, her art went head to head with abstractionists Helen Frankenthaler & Clyfford Still. This time she’s battling a different critter. Who? Paul Doran…look at his works to see where this is going. Let his works speak for themselves. Look right. Look below.

PAUL DORAN: Here’s what the critics say about Paul Doran: “PAUL DORAN’S small, gritty paintings remind one of Arthur Dove upon first view. Small and seemingly clumsy, like Dove’s early forays into abstraction, Doran seems to be channeling early modernism…blah-help-me-blah…” (I dread to imagine Arthur Dove)

Or:Paul Doran is most famous for a series of work that took a love of impasto effects to the level of extreme sport, burying the canvas in a rich heap of brashly swept oil-paint… ” (Brashly swept? Impasto effects? As they say in The Tube in London:  Shut up, you fucking cow!)

Don’t even try the “you don’t get art” defense: Okay, if you’re a Doran fan, you might be thinking,  “Ah hah, why respond to this idiot Caleb Powell. He’s dismissing before looking deeper. This ass just doesn’t understand art.” Fair enough. I’ll fire back: art’s my damned life.

When art critics champion dross the people who don’t understand art either turn off or ignore. The people who understand art are offended or sycophantic. Art becomes less important and accessible. Paul Doran’s existence is one of the many epitomes of this dynamic. Are there any Paul Doran admirers out there? Engage me, gaze at the two Dorans…I’ve given a first glance, a hard intuitive look, and a long meditation. Conclusion: Utter squeak.

VIDEO:  I give a tour of my parents’ house. Lots of books & art. Pictured is my mother at Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan, 1967 (a year before she gave birth to me).

Clyfford Still vs. Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell

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Casino Monte-Carlo & Hotel de Paris

Clyfford Still vs. Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell:  The above blend of color, caricature, and content, “Casino Monte Carlo and Hotel de Paris,” was painted by the artist known as Cove Loon, or 魏嵦毅, or B.J.W. Powell.  In her second duel against abstract expressionists she has to battle, once again, with a yellow square reminiscent of the Frankenthaler in my previously blog: Helen Frankenthaler vs. Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell. What artist? Read on.

“Still makes the rest of us look academic.” – Jackson Pollock

If you think Jackson Pollock is the only overrated abstract expressionist whose blobs, scribbles, and splotches attracted gawkers willing to spend millions, think again. Enter Clyfford Still. Look at the yellow rectangle. Is it a question of sophistication? No. To the untrained eye it looks like nothing special, and to the trained eye it looks like crap.

Wisdom of the over appreciated:  “To be stopped by a frame’s edge is intolerable.” – Clyfford Still

To be prattled at by a moron is much more intolerable. Clyfford, screw off. Seriously? You couldn’t have just kept on painting yellow if it weren’t for that damned frame’s edge. Are the synapses within your cerebellum and medulla not functioning?  I know you’re dead, but crimeeeeeiny, your followers may claim that $$$ validate pseudo-greatness. In November of 2011 Four of your “Clyfford Still” Paintings sold for over $114,000,000. Gadfuckingzooks! The Secret sells millions of books, BFD.

“Better than Still” Life with Shirt

Clyfford Still vs. My Daughter’s Shirt:  I do not claim the shirt on the right is more beautiful than the Still on the left. The Still actually has a certain aesthetic I find pleasing, though the shirt has more use as an article of clothing, and is almost as beautiful, I’d take the Still. Then I’d sell it to some rich liberal sycophant.

What to do? I understand why this Denver woman punched his painting, but that’s not the answer. All I can do is curse this proliferation of nonsensical visual art (for every Pollock, Doran, Hirst, Still, Frankenthaler etc. there are 1,000’s of aspirants). Grumble about those willing to spend gobs of $$$ on crap. And decry the fact that artists who have more worthy visions garner less attention. Once again, I ask, what would you prefer to look at, “Yellow” or “Au Café de la Place”?

Au Café de la Place

Helen Frankenthaler vs. Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell

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This post has four pictures, two of them are painted by Helen Frankenthaler, an abstract expressionist who achieved no small amount of attention. She passed away on December 27, 2011. And here are two self-explanatory examples of her art, which I’ll call “Blue” & “Yellow.” Pleasant, indeed, but worthy of greatness? The paintings above and below are the work of one of her unknown contempories, Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell, aka Cove Loon, aka Mom. Frankenthaler achieved fame and attention, yet comes from a period that I simply do not get. She counts artists such as Jackson Pollock among her influences. This is problematic, Pollock is not great. Certainly, he is among the many of her contemporaries that have changed & influenced art, but I would argue that they have not advanced art. They’ve lowered the aesthetic bar, added elements that take away from pursuits of beauty and meaning and replaced them with simplicity. Often I think the art world has gone nuts, and rewarded people not on skill or talent or aesthetic but on random chance and marketing. Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Paul Doran, Arshile Gorky, Damien Hirst, Lee Krasner, Dale Malner, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Andy Warhol, et al somehow managed to replicate pop culture or fill a niche or fund bizarre projects as they spread globs of paint on canvas or as they manufactured junk into a visual display; their art is craft or promotion. Am I an unsophisticated lout who has no appreciation of art? That usually is a defense artistes wage against detractors, fair enough, but I have grown up amidst art, am familiar with the art historians, and think that for an artist to be great, one of the criteria is that they must have talent.

As far as Frankenthaler’s art, intuitively and with a further and deeper glance, I do not see why her paintings have value. Her art does not interest me, I pass it by and look for something else.

This brings me to my mother, and do not think I imply that she should be famous. Her talent is worthy of greatness, but her output, ambition, drive, complacency et al have hindered her overall body of work. She is exactly where she should be in the art world, someone who is appreciated by family and friends. Nevertheless, take a look at the art within this post. What would you rather have on your wall?