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The Anxiety of Originality

Made in L.A., 2012 Hammer Museum Biennial – Until the beginning of the 20th century, the education and subsequent “originality” of an artist  depended heavily on the practice of copying from the Masters. Even Cezanne and Matisse openly acknowledged their artistic debts. As epater le bourgeoisie became a requirement of serious Modernist art, however, significations of genius and inventiveness were tied less to technical mastery and more to unpredictability, novelty and eccentricity. Heavily dependent on a cult of individualism and its supposed position outside of mainstream culture, the myth of originality propelled the succession of Modernist movements with its serial overthrowing or “clean breaks” with tradition. The artist’s … [Read more...]

The Pearl

Exploring Portland’s Regional Arts District – Art doesn’t differ from city to state to country as much as I sometimes think it should, or wish that it did. Like most things in this highly technological decade of “sharing,” art has become a global form of expression, and galleries worldwide feel homogenized when it comes to the medium and aesthetic they promote. Looking at auction results you can surmise, as clearly as you could when the “hierarchy of genres” was taken seriously in the not too distant past, what that hierarchy is in today’s art market. Analyzing different artists shown across the U.S. can be a repetitious endeavor, as galleries make only the smallest of shifts in the artwork and the artists represented to appeal to the … [Read more...]

Disgust on Traction

Paul and Damon McCarthy’s Rebel Dabble Babble – I’m on Traction in downtown L.A. last month and I hear the sounds of domestic violence coming through the walls of a warehouse. Somebody’s yelling, getting slapped, cutlery is being broken. This is in the Arts District, where Los Angeles drops its ambivalence about being a city and develops some street culture. There’s a sign beside the door where the guttural cries seem to be coming from: The Box Gallery. Entering the building turns out to be the cultural equivalent of changing the bandage on a stranger’s hideous and possibly terminal infection, and yet, with my dying breath I would defend the artistic quality of the work that was on exhibit there.  What you would have seen … [Read more...]

A Conversation with John Duncan

This interview is the Second Part of a two part post that reviews the work of John Duncan                    Part One: A Conversation with John Duncan: Prologue – Aram Yardumian: You have several times said you were primarily interested in finding ways to tap into the ‘inner self’ and to ‘wake up’. What is the ‘inner self’? Or rather, in what terms do you come to this concept? And what is it to ‘wake up’—do you mean this physiologically, mentally, metaphorically? John Duncan: Interesting question. What is the ‘inner self’? There is a moment in out-of-body experiences when you are aware of the physical body, the ‘self’ that perceives it from a certain distance – and another … [Read more...]

A Conversation with John Duncan: Prologue

It was Nietzsche who predicted the arts and sciences would merge into a single practice capable of opening new vistas to the world. The techne of science and the raw Dionysian energy of art together would render obsolete both theology—that caked residue under the toilet bowl of metaphysics—and the equally tendentious religiosity of Positivism. Whether Nietzsche envisioned specific technologies adapted by one and made suitable for the other, or more generally a reinforced mindset we cannot say. After all, art and science, from Euclid to Catherine Wagner, have always reacted with each other to produce a permanent art. Perhaps he meant a form of rational empiricism forged not by observation but by actualization. The elasticity of the aesthetic … [Read more...]

Double-Take, The Whitney Biennial 2012

Looking back on the work of Tom Thayer, Moyra Davey, Elaine Reichek and Werner Herzog – The Whitney Biennial, March 1–May 27, 2012, a group show of about fifty plus artists amply fills all five floors of the Whitney Museum of American Art. The exhibition is notorious for being one of the most anticipated and important group shows, while at the same time feeling like one of the most meaningless. The Biennial, turning from annual to biennial in 1973, is still seen as a truthful indicator of the state of the art world, the mood of contemporary artists, and the preoccupations of the society that surrounds them. The show has a kind of trend-setting prestige and greatly appeals to young artists, perhaps because the exhibition is supposed to … [Read more...]

When Art Had Heart

L.A. Raw—Abject Expressionism in Los Angeles 1945-1980  – As part of the massive near year long Pacific Standard Time series of exhibitions exploring the post-World War II Los Angeles art scene, curator Michael Duncan’s survey L.A. Raw - Abject Expressionism in Los Angeles 1945-1980, from Rico Lebrun to Paul McCartney at the Pasadena Museum of California Art stands out as the most memorable and powerful—and least publicized—of all the PST offerings. An in-depth investigation of notable and less familiar artists of that period who were driven by “introspection and angst” to make “socially relevant art ,“ the exhibition raises as many questions about the current state of art in the face of equally compelling issues. In his … [Read more...]

Inside the Artists Studio—Sean Duffy

Inside the Artist’s Studio is an-ongoing series exploring issues  on contemporary art through direct encounters with the artists themselves.  Dude-entity – Consider the American garage. Besides its primary purpose as storage for automotive maintenance supplies and providing year round protection for our economy’s most important commodity, the 21st century garage might be analyzed in the same manner as Walter Benjamin examined the deteriorating 19th century Parisian arcades. According to Benjamin, the 20th century was foretold in the demise of the 19th century shopping malls with its often absurd contents. Catacombs of surplus and obsolete consumer items, like the arcades, the garage reveals the fashions, … [Read more...]

The Quiet Artwork of an Outspoken Artist

Ai Weiwei’s Sunflowers at the Mary Boone Gallery, 2012 – Last year the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei captured the world’s attention when he was detained on April 3rd, and was held in a secret police detention center for the following 80 days. It was a story that brought the real world to the doorstep of the art world, and as the art world awaited news of the already internationally known artist, protests of his disappearance took place everywhere. In New York City, home to a particularly large and vocal art community, various different protests—Creative Time’s 1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei, a staged recreation of the artist’s own installation Fairytale: 1001 Qing Dynasty Wooden Chairs for Documenta 12, or the Cuban artist Geandy … [Read more...]

Chauvet and Lascaux, The Deeper Syntax

Reflections on the Phenomenology of Upper Paleolithic Cave Art – One of the most important questions we can ask is how we came to recognize ourselves. This is not the same as asking when we first saw our image reflected in still water, or how we learned to react selfishly to pain and fear. It is not merely self-awareness we are after, but the awareness of oneself as oneself—the awareness of ‘I’ apart from the material continuum of the natural world, and without any other quality attached to it. So many uniquely human technological achievements—the fishhook, fire, cutting edges, even basic seafaring—the results of millennia of trials and errors—seem possible without recourse to ‘I’. But identity, philosophy, poetry, psychoanalysis, … [Read more...]