Thursday, September 6, 2007

Your Momma's Fat

(pictured) Mark Creegan installation

The other day, I ran into Kurt Polkey. Kurt has always been one of my favorite people to talk to…he’s hilarious in a very low-key kind of way and he’s thoughtful and humble too. We got to talking about blogs and in particular the post here about the Dan Colen, Dash Snow *NEST* project Deitch.

I had pretty much lambasted it as a folly, transfigured by a voyeuristic youth-worshipping culture into something both greater and lesser than the original premise (tear up a bunch of phone books, take a bunch of drugs, try to be a hamster). But I’d also acknowledged that I hadn’t seen in person--admittedly not the most ideal circumstances under which to review artwork.

Kurt had actually just returned from a trip to NYC. Here’s what he had to say about the work “I read the blog about *NEST*, the show at Deitch. I saw that show! I tried to post a comment, but it didn’t seem to want to work for me today. The show was impressive in person, but not as impressive as others I’ve seen. The word I used on the blog was neat […] The idea I found more interesting was the class of the artists swaying the way the work was seen or understood. This is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. What if the artist was a woman or a black man? Class, gender, and race in art is a great topic for discussion.”

So I got to thinking about the cultural construct of the artist and how that ideal has changed over the past, say 30 years….but from my in-situ perspective about 10 years. If one uses Jacksonville as a microcosm of the art world, it’s interesting to see how the “players” have constructed and reconfigured themselves. This also falls neatly into place in the wake of *Portent, I said Portent* over at Pedestrian Projects and Kurt's call to arms.

Kurt decried the Jax., scene for being to “nice.” He wants to see blood drawn and he’s even got his own champion, local filmmaker Morrison.

So after a weekend to ponder *Portent* here’s are a couple of things to consider in looking at work (and not just this show):

a. Is the work new? Some of it (I’m fairly sure) has been shown before, or given pretty hefty web exposure. This isn’t a bad thing per se, as the interweb is a great way to connect people, and gain exposure, but in a show that purports to look forward, in a market this small, why exhibit previously shown works?...If all the work is new, maybe the artist(s) should consider the cost of churning out work for the sake of art shows, not for the sake of creative exploration.

b. Self-editing. I believe this is a problem many artists suffer from, and I don’t think it’s entirely their fault—I think the myths and monsters of art history have a great bit to do with this. Auction houses that regularly post sales in the hundreds of thousands for a great master’s sketch feed the myth that everything from an artist’s hand is worth saving and that’s simply not true. Back to self editing, while Kurt’s smaller drawn works were very successful in that they articulate his aesthetic within a finite framework, the paintings were disjunctive in that they were neither the overly simplified, quasi-political pieces of yore, nor a more full articulation of an evolved idea.

BTW Kurt, my champ vs. yours any day.


kurt polkey said...

I couldn't agree any more about the paintings. If all the family paintings were shown at once maybe they would have fared better, but they weren't and I shouldn't have shown them the way I did. I think the drawings come from a different, much more reflective, thoughtful (in terms of art) place. The thing is I knew the paintings would go over well, because simply put, paintings are a crowd pleaser and I succumbed to the idea of pleasing the crowd. It worked I got four times as many compliments on the paintings than I did the drawings. And I only got two compliments on the paintings.
I was very happy when I read you like the drawings Madeleine because I trust your opinions so much. I'm not just navel gazing here, you know what you're talking about.
Thanks for being nasty.


Mark Creegan said...

There was a "please the crowd" mentality to my presentation as well. I am really glad you brought this up Madeleine because it is something that has worried me for years about this area. It has created MUCH anxiety about showing my work in this town.

Its interesting really. When you show art in an area where so many know you, you feel pressured to live up to expectations and , invariably, this results in being safe. Which i equate to dumbing things down. Now, in this situation, there was a "dumbing down" factor that was beyond my control, but i still feel responsible. I am not sure what the solution is really except to realize the situation and fight it with all one's might. Also perhaps to limit the amount of local shows.

any thoughts?

Mark Creegan said...

Not that "pleasing the crowd" isnt a valuable exercise. Its certainly a part of having a generous quality i feel very important. And to me challenging the crowds' perceptions is just as generous. But one must be careful especially regarding specific crowds. The crowd you want to please should be generalized, IMO.

madeleine said...
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madeleine said...

In thinking about the idea of creating work to please an audience, or dumbing it down, I think that it feeds into the truth that Jacksonville is at best a second tier city, with like a 4th tier art scene. Whether or not that is a bad thing, I think depends on your expectations and your perspective...but that’s an other conversation.

More than anything, I believe it would help if Jacksonville-based artists were much more rigorous in their in-studio editing...which does include (Mark good point) a decision about which shows to participate in, and which not to.

Work is subjective, and I know how easy it is to lose perspective inside one’s own head. However, I think that artists owe it to themselves to present the work they feel most strongly about and while in-studio to develop a dialogue with someone whose ideas they trust.

For me, this show also brought out the relevance of the internet. Some of the work had seen a high level of exposure previous to the show, and I can’t help but think that that lessened the impact of the work.

What I am saying, is that it is important for artists to not only have personal integrity about their work, but to also present it in new and surprising ways.

Mark Creegan said...

At the same time, Madeleine, I think we should admit this art community (as you say is 4th tier) needs stuff to happen. I think as artists, we can begin to be wary about where we show when there are more places TO show. We can be more careful about self-editing when we have developed a practice that is known and understood by the artists and by others. In the mean time , I say lets go thru a huge diarrhea period where artists should do anything and everything. And i take as my model on this the art parade I posted about on Jaxcal. There is plenty of time to be professional, professionalism has and continues to hurt art here, and part of that was responsible for the aspects of the show you are rightly criticizing.

I think we need spaces where an artist can do dumb stuff and make HUGE mistakes. I think it takes more commitment and courage to arrange for that than anything else. It is an easy trap to be professional and try not to offend, which, has its place and is important also, but we have had that.

madeleine said...

I don't think that professional and inoffensive are one and the same.

What I advocate is way/place where artists are challenging both themselves and the viewer with work that encapsulates their ideas...and I agree mistakes are a good thing, they can help people to make the leap to the nest level, however, within that framework there is room for self-curation.

The art parade might be a great idea because it doens't take itself too seriously. There just needs to be a balance...between the what is being made and what is new.

I went to the show hoping to see things I hadn't seen before, and I didn't. I saw a few people whose work had evovled, and a few whose work looked exactly like I expected it to.

Mark Creegan said...

Those are excellent things to expect to see. I feel I should clarify tho (before my friends think im dissing our show) I think it was an excellent show, much better than most. I do think that in a group show situation it is difficult to do the same things one can do in a solo show. There was some compromise involved. I also know that even tho some things have had web exposure, as you point out, i think nothing had ever been shown in a show before. Yes, my paint can drips had been used before, but never on a column which i have been itching to do for a while. But your point about web exposure as counting as the same as showing in a gallery is interesting. I had never really considered that.

And i agree professionalism and not being offensive are not synonomous. However i do think the later is sometimes regarded as criteria for the acheiving the former.

madeleine said...
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madeleine said...

Let me begin by clarifying, I do not think that a web-presence is the same as a gallery show. Often, I see work online that then encourages me to see the work in person. And in doing that, in seeing the work in three dimensions–as opposed to in a photograph–nuances are revealed…whether of size, techniques, or of decisions made.

I’d seen your drips online, and was excited to see them in person. Also, I was curious about Bryon’s work, and how it would translate.

Because of their scale, the soldiers’ force was lessened. The paint drips also lost a bit of their formal austerity when mounted on the column.

So, those are my thoughts.

Jaime Verde said...

I realize I'm behind in this discussion, but I'm really interested in the ideas and I'm glad they're being hashed out.

It is a really hard thing to be a crowd pleaser AND do work that has a conceptual, formal punch. But it can be done.

I ask this question of my students and its kind of a riddle: "Does a work of art need anyone to see it?" The answer almost always comes back NO. Artists can make work just for themselves. In fact, some artists (Darger, for instance) work for their entire adult life and their art doesn't see the light of day at all. For them it's not even about showing.

Ask yourself- is this a piece that belongs in front of people? Or is this just for me? If it belongs in front of people, then consider the venue, what else will be around your work, and who will be seeing it.

We did a lot more dodgy stuff in grad school because we knew it would be largely other art students viewing our work. In JAX, I try not to show dodgy stuff, but rather to present something that seems acceptable (maybe even simplistic) at first but could short circuit your expectations of art if you really pay attention to it.

Self editing is the key. As for "old" work, well, I'll admit that my photo install spans several years, but there are images from this year included as well.

Everything old is new again eventually.

madeleine said...

I like your riddle, and I think it addresses the inherent difference between art (all forms) and the others ways in which people can choose to make a can and is done initially under the purview of one person...everthing else evolves from that.

Jennifer Morgan said...

I agree with James; I think at times working out the nuances in private helps distill ideas for more public pieces. Because sometimes you do have to ask who will care about this piece or the next. I'm certainly not advocating self-censorship here, but most definitely promoting self-editing that Madeleine mentions above.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to come to this sort of late. I wasn't aware that it was going on.

Actually the drawings were never intended to be shown in a gallery so I can see why you would say that. At the core of the concept is the flyers and the about page. The idea. the drawings are just a by product of the concept.

If the size of the drawings is what bothered you that's interesting. I'm actually doing them as silkscreens now and they will be very large. 22"x30"... It should be interesting to see how that changes their impact.

Originally Mark, Kurt and I had conceived of showing the trophy soldiers flyers in the gallery, but I must admit that this is Jacksonville and I'm not sure that would have worked. I'm all for coming to a common ground for the average viewer. The reason I chose drawings for this project in the first place was that it generally wins more viewers over vs. installations, or some other form of contemporary interdisciplinary art. I feel that contemporary art has lost it's grounding when speaking to the people, and drawing is a vehicle for beginning a discussion for the average viewer.

I believe the majority of viewers need to have a, damn I couldn't do that or draw that reaction, or they will have a hard time getting into the concept. Drawing has the ability to draw the average viewer into the concept.

Regardless of any of this, I do think that it was a very strong show. to have anything different here is great. And I don't think artists can really pick and choose where they are showing here so to think that editing and such is a real issue I don't agree with. Artists are lucky to have any space to show here, and they have to listen to the curator (of which I thought it was curated really well) on how the show comes together.

If thhis was a bigger city I could see where this could be an issue for a show like Portent. It was a small group show with a sampling of work from some interesting artists, myself excluded.

It's important to have serious dialogue about the shows. These types of conversations should definitely continue.