All the clich’s are true.
How Not To Write An Art Review – With apologies to Anselm and Inka
by James Kalm
While researching criticism on Postmodernism and Deconstructivisim I noticed a strange similarity in book titles. See if you can spot it. "After the End of Art," by Arthur Danto, "The End of the Art World" by Robert C. Morgan, "Images Before the End of Art," by Hans Belting, and "The Illusions of Postmodernism," by Terry Eagleton. Sounds like the Postmodernist sky is falling. If it bleeds, it leads. Tragedy and crisis are more profound than joy and fulfillment. Painting has been killed off more times than "Kenny." The lives of ten thousand unknown artists are echoed in the remainder bins in the down stairs art department at the Strand.
Why is the New York Intelligencia on such a bummer? Sure the world has changed since 9/11, but I think this is a more profound realignment of thought. Maybe it’s just a communal case of male menopause. Perhaps the whale of philosophy has finally puked up art, like a naked and dizzy Jonah, on the beach of a new millenium. In any case, something has happened, something that wasn’t predicted by any pundits, or espoused by any group’s manifesto. History has caught up with Postmodernism. A particular line of thought has come to the end of its rope.
Last week I attended a panel discussion ostensibly on "narrative" in new painting. I observed a group of artists and critics trying to decipher great works of art through the prism of Po Mo. It was an uncomfortable spectacle, like watching a group of middle aged men trying to fit gorillas into Barbie doll outfits. I believe in God and Art. I just can’t define ether one. When it comes to painting, that’s an idea that I, perhaps mistakenly, can seem to get my head around.
We’re not living in extraordinary times. The greatest challenge is to create an illusion that will spark interest (energy) and help humanity surf through the concrete tsunami of the mundane. One function of art is to allow us to be more fully engaged, for at least one more day.
Nature abhors a vacuum. PoMo society’s elimination of God has nurtured a line of candidates jostling for their chance to become the new secular religion. The art museum is one of the temples, and as Dave Hickey has said, none of them are getting any smaller. The confluence of celebrity and art seems ready made for the promulgation of a "cult of personality."
Which brings us to the Alselm Kiefer show at Gagosian Gallery, Merkaba. Kiefer is an artist that I’ve been watching since his emergence in the early eighties, with the "New German Painting." One of the works greatest pleasures is its over the top brooding Teutonic physicality. This show at this venue raises serious questions about the ability of a certain sensibility to maintain its impact when the scale is inflated to the mega level that the Gagosian space provokes. These paintings are massive, and they are constructed with heavy slathers of oil paint, glazes, varnishes, drips, and thin sheets of oxidized lead. For good measure many pieces have metal elements, rusted to just the right tone, attached. Things like vermin traps, and bird cages project out into the viewer’s space. A shared trait of the paintings is a horizontal landscape or architectural motif with the upper regions depicting the sky covered in lead, and splattered with white drips, representing stars. The skies are filled with a dizzying amount of small numbered notations and simple white lines, as if to simulate constellation charts. The paintings are accompanied by two huge long low-slung sculptures fabricated from concrete and rebar that look as if they’d been ripped out of some decrepit industrial setting. The palette is muddy. The depictions are fuzzy. The mood is overwhelmingly dour. I won’t assume to interpret the content, (why spoil the fun, after all this isn’t about writing an art review.) There’s a point at which the tactile qualities can’t be felt. There must be an effective proportion of surface consistency that coincides with the most desirable viewing distance. Ether the textures have to get chunkier, or the rendering has to become more articulate. As with any show of this magnitude, there must be large armies of busy assistants fabricating the works. Upon leaving this show and pondering it later, I was concerned if this might not represent another category of celebrity cult worship? If Jim Jones picked up a paint brush, would his followers still drink the "Cool-Aid."
On a lighter note, Inka Essenhigh’s series of paintings at 303 Gallery isn’t dour, muddy, or depressing. Hold the "Cool-Aid." These works take chances, make changes, and indeed show that there is life after Mary Boone. By eschewing her signature slick enamel surfaces, Essenhigh accepts the historical challenge of the classic oil medium. This allows for more painterly surface modulations and seems to give the works a grittier more hard fought quality. The artist still retains her razor sharp whiplash line, which may be one of the works most distinctive characteristics. The new images have a kind of "bad ass girl" attitude, that doesn’t feint a well-behaved prissiness. In Kate Dancing 2002, the figures gyrate like the undulating fluids in a "lava lamp." The forms expand, stretch, and balloon. The curves of a jean clad buttocks, become more cleaved until they resemble a pair of boobs. A dancing sandaled foot is exaggerated and becomes the major element of a figure. There are echoes of Dalisque Surrealism, Japanese Animation, and 1960’s underground comics in the painting Optimistic Horse and Rider 2002. The blend is a heady mÃ¯Â¿Â½lange of the erotic, fairy-tale fantasy, and material girl "in yo face". By forsaking formula and provoking change, Essenhigh is forced to find solutions to painting problems that supercede the fashionable.