Monday, February 13, 2012

Conceptual Approach to Readymades - “My Staff Understands Me
Jerrold Seigel . “Five— Private Worlds Made Public: The Readymades” 1995
Preferred Citation: Seigel, Jerrold. The Private Worlds of Marcel Duchamp: Desire, Liberation, and the Self in Modern Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
William Shakespeare. “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” Scene V.
Speed. Why then, how stands the matter with them?
Launce. Marry, thus: when it stands well with him, it stands well with her.
Speed. What an ass art thou! I understand thee not.
Launce. What a block art thou, that thou canst not! My staff understands me.
Speed. What thou sayest?
Launce. Ay, and what I do too: look thee, I’ll but lean, and my staff understands me.
Speed. It stands under thee, indeed.
Launce. Why, stand-under and under-stand is all one.
Joseph Beuys - Langhaus (Vitrine). vitrine with block of wood, walking stick, felt and oil paint

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Revisiting 1960s and 1970s Art

In 1979 and 1980 Robert Hughes, art critic for Time Magazine, hosted a series of eight, hour-long segments about Modern Art on PBS and BBC Two called “Shock of the New.” One of the segments touched on the 1960s and ‘70s era.(1) In his haste to declare the emerging art movements “a rush toward insignificance” he falls into the very trap he set out to avoid: of prognosticating the future. Now that more time has elapsed we can see that ‘60s and ‘70s art was a reflection of the evolving culture of its time.

During a brisk 2 minutes and 20 seconds clip he glibly dismisses the explosive art movements that were born in the tumultuous ‘60s and ‘70s. “The famous radicalism of ‘60s & ‘70s art turns out to have been ... a charade of toughness, a way of avoiding feeling.” Quite the contrary! Artists were never more public about being personally vulnerable or more demanding of the viewer’s involvement.

Although Robert Hughes pines at the loss of Modern Art, the conclusion of Modernism was inevitable. Its creation was a result of its time: the reaction to the chaos and uncertainty surrounding World War I into the physical transformation of art and architecture into a new world of steel, glass, and clean lines.(2&3) A subsequent reconstructing of this Utopia followed as a result of another upheaval of society after World War II.

Robert Hughes claims “we don’t have an avant-garde anymore.” His conclusion came during a time of flux. He was unable to appreciate what a dramatic turn art was taking during the time of his TV production. The 1960s and ‘70s was a period of tremendous change and uncertainty(4) John F. Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassinations, Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War, Kent State shooting, Watergate, and the Feminist Movement. Baby boomers had become teenagers and young adults. There were no sustainable rules to follow, no leaders that endured past their legends, and no cultural directions. Commercialism and media manipulation reigned and were unmasked by Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes(5)

and Donald Judd’s boxes(6&7) Andre Carl’s(8) bricks on floors, and video art (which came into the hands of the individual during the late ‘60s) from Bill Viola(9), Chris Burden(10&11), and Paul McCarthy(12). Social and political concerns were addressed through Pop Art, Minimalism, Conceptualism, Performance, Installation and Video Art. Personal issues of identity were explored through Body Art and Feminist Art. This was the era of Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Massage”((13&14) and Carol Hanisch’s “The Personal is Political.”(15) The avant-garde” was happening but Hughes could not relate.

Far from being meaningless, ‘60s and ‘70s art provided the needed transition from Modern Art to art movements that followed. What was needed was not the heady idealism during a period of reformation but the questioning of society’s expectations a during a period of free fall. Hughes perceived a toughness or avoidance of feeling. He missed the personal explorations of vulnerability in a period of little clarity and truth. Hughes noted, The basic project of art is always to make the world whole ... to pass from feeling to meaning.” With all due respect to Hughes, we are obligated to look at the art of the ‘60s and ‘70s and think, “this is the necessary art of our time.” It has fulfilled his own requirements of “What Art Is” with an abundance of feeling and exploration to create meaning.

  1. Robert Hughes “On What Art Is”
  2. Corcoran Gallery of Art. “Modernism-Designing a New World 1914 - 1939.” Exhibition 17 March - 29 July 2007.
  3. Christopher Wilk. “Modernism: Designing a New World” 2006. Victoria & Albert Museum.
  4. Bonnie K. Goodman. “Ronald Reagan/The Sixties/Timeline”
  5. P. Walsh Allen Memorial Art Museum Oberlin College. “Index of Selected Artists In the Collection - Andy Warhol”
  6. Tate Modern. “Press Release 27 January 2004. Donald Judd Retrospective Exhibition: 5 February - 25 April 2004”
  7. Tate Modern. Donald Judd “About the Artist” Exhibition: 5 February - 25 April 2004
  8. Martin Ries. “Carl Andre - Equivalent VIII” 1991. Paper: Release-Time Research Grant from Long Island University, the Brooklyn Campus.
  9. Don Shewey. “An Artist Finds Poetry in Videotape.” 8 November 1987. New York Times.
  10. UbuWeb. “Chris Burden”
  11. Peter Kirby. “Chris Burden” (video) . A Twenty-Year Survey, Newport Harbor Art Museum - A Video Portrait (1989)
  12. PBS Art21 “Art in the Twenty-First Century Season 5, Transformation: Paul McCarthy” 2009
  13. Marshall McLuhan. “The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects” 1967. Bantam Books/Random House.
  14. Terrence Gordon. “Marshall McLuhan-Biography.” 2002
  15. Carol Hanisch. “The Personal Is Political” 1969.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Response to Comments on Science & Art from Anonymous Panel Audience

I love the comparisons but Oh no no! For me it has not been wise to choose ANY problem at any time. I multi-task with the best of them but I would get nothing done if I didn’t focus. My focus is deconstructing the everyday things in my life to achieve a new or better understanding instead of coasting and assuming. In choosing a lab, you have chosen the focus of your efforts. Sometimes it is a matter of putting your actions and thoughts on hold for a more fruitful environment. These scientific problems of yours can germinate until you feel comfortable presenting these to your current lab so they become incorporated in their aims or until you have other opportunities. In that way your science is a bit like art. An idea comes to mind but there are so many other things in progress that it cannot be addressed at the time. It is put on hold. (That is what notebooks are for. For me, if it is not written down it can be forgotten but I find the more determined ones resurface. Also, when ideas don’t “drift by” it is high time to wake up and look for them.) By the time the idea is addressed, it has modified and is richer for the aging. (Are you hearing the terms “conceptual” and “malleable”?) You do want results and it doesn’t matter to those looking at the final product how you did it. It matters to you and that is why the final product is successful. Focus does not have to be an exclusive activity but it does require prioritizing tasks. Far from “horrible,” decisions and restrictions become freeing.

Joseph Kosuth

Art After Philosophy (1969)

One and Three Chairs

Sol LeWitt

Sentence on Conceptual Art (1968)

Wall Drawing #1113


The Creative Act (1957)

Bicycle Wheel

Lucy Lippard

Six Years, The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972: A cross-Reference Book of Information on Some Esthetic Boundaries. (also @ Amazon)

Martha Rosler

Decoys and Disruptions: Selected Writings, 1975 - 2001

Semiotics of the Kitchen

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hallowed Hollow

Mark Cameron Boyd

March 10, 2009

Your article touches on two subjects, minimalist theory and the debate between art and artifact. It is stating that Robert Kusmirowski’s sculptural version of Ted Kaczynski’s, (a.k.a. the Unabomber) cabin is a minimalist sculpture because the viewer is denied an understanding of the inside and can only understand the piece “through its obdurate wholeness.” If the artistic cabin were to be considered a minimalist sculpture, it would have to be read objectively as a large cube in the form of a boarded up cabin and the interior would be merely the space formed to support the exterior walls. The viewer would be pleased for the opportunity to have the experience of an abstracted, self-explanatory, in this case cubed object. Its wholeness would be in its solidarity.

The wholeness of Kusmirowski’s exterior form is not sufficient to read his work. By referencing the artifact, Kusmirowski has asked the viewer to use a subjective approach. We cannot fully understand the piece without evaluating the meaning of the denied interior. The artist has opened the viewer’s imagination by boarding up this cabin. The viewer must assign personal experience, reach an opinion, and pass judgment about the “hallowed hollow.” The artist asks the viewer to set aside the initial abhorrence of the place, the home of a murderer, submit to natural curiosities, and ask what it’s really like to get inside. The artist is not asking us to look through the eyes of a murderer but he is challenging the viewer to acknowledge a culpability of wanting a voyeuristic look inside the cabin for a close encounter with the mindset of a murderer. The interior of the cabin and its inferences play a major part in understanding the piece whether we see the inside or not. Both the physical exterior and the personal interior are critical to understanding this work of art.

When comparing different styles, I think of two other boxes. Maya Lin's "Blue Lake Pass" sculpture that is included in the traveling exhibition, "Systematic Landscapes" currently at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and Edward Kienholz's "State Hospital" both use space to intimidate.

Lin's sculpture uses space and form to define her intent. “Blue Lake Pass” has interior space only as a result of the topography she presents. Understanding the interior space is not intrinsic to the work's meaning. It is merely a result of the theme she is presenting. Her use of exterior space does contribute to the understanding of her landscape. “Blue Lake Pass” is a large model of shapes found in nature that impede on our personal space. They ask, “What is out of place - landscapes recreated in a museum or our presence within nature?” The placement of her boxes creates an environment that can be read as topography that can be experienced. The viewer can walk the resulting passageways and become part of the rolling scene. Those same boxes though are placed close enough to give an overwhelmingly physical presence of nature. It is the distance she leaves between her sections of topography that creates a sense of infringement.

Kienholz’s sculpture uses space and concept to get his point across. “State Hospital” has a padlocked, interior space similar to the “Unicabine” in that what’s going on inside defines the piece. The viewer experiences the same sensations of revulsion and voyeurism. Where the artists differ is in intent. “State Hospital” is a social commentary about the complacency of Americans to address society’s treatment of the insane. Unlike Kusmirowski’s piece, Kienholz’s box encourages access. The viewer can enter by peeking through a barred window or by walking around the box. The “rear” exterior wall has been removed so that the viewer can gawk at a world filled with terror and isolation. We are challenged to justify this interior’s existence for we find enough to suggest that a similar room of confinement could exist. The “Unicabine” on the other hand provides a more objective commentary. No where is the viewer asked to engage in a communal sense of responsibility that as a society we could create such a monster. This room documents an environment that does not require any intervention on the part of a society. The viewer is encouraged to fantasize about a murderous madman as if watching a spectacle.

What remains constant among these artists is their use of space to create art. The box has proven versatile enough to stand alone, to offer support, or to suggest an environment. Its universality allows the viewer to accept the shape, bond with it, and move on to a larger understanding of the work - to paraphrase Morris. The artists have used the box well. It is up to the viewer to comprehend and accept the wholeness of their works of art.