Sunday, February 10, 2008

Photography died today... just a little

Polaroid brings down the shutters on iconic film
By Rachelle Money

Three factories close and 450 jobs go as another product falls victim to digital age

THE DIGITAL age has claimed another victim. First it was the VHS recorder, then the humble transistor radio. Now it's the turn of the Polaroid camera.
Yesterday, the company behind the iconic instant camera announced it was to stop making the film used by Polaroid enthusiasts, because there is no longer a market for it.
Three factories will close in Massachusetts, Mexico and the Netherlands, resulting in 450 job losses. The company stopped making the cameras for commercial use in 2006 and halted production of the consumer models last year.

"We're trying to re-invent Polaroid so it lives on for the next 30 to 40 years," said Tom Beaudoin, the firm's president.
This reinvention means developing Polaroid-branded digital cameras, and portable printers for mobile phone images.
Last month, Polaroid unveiled a line of Zink printers that can develop wallet-sized photos from digital cameras in 60 seconds. The company plans to roll out larger-format printers in coming years.

Polaroid also makes DVD players, TVs and other electronic products, which bring in about $1 billion in annual sales, Beaudoin added. "Our main product line was in a technologically driven decline,'' said Beaudoin. "The Zink printers will complete the transformation from analog instant to digital instant.'' Polaroid film, which has been around since the late-1940s, became a big hit with people who wanted instant results from their camera, and in 1994 its popularity peaked with sales reaching $2.3bn.
However, these figures dropped dramatically to $752 million in 2003 as customers moved to digital cameras.
Polaroid, which was bought out by Petters Group Worldwide three years ago after filing for bankruptcy, will make enough instant film to last into 2009.
It plans to license the technology to third-party companies, leaving Fujifilm as the only remaining supplier of instant film in the United States.
In March, Polaroid's Vale of Leven factory in Dunbartonshire was bought over by StyleMark Inc, a US sunglasses company.
The blame for Polaroid's demise has been laid squarely at the door of digital photography because consumers can achieve the same quick results with the added bonus of being able to edit the images and print them at home.
However, not everyone is convinced Polaroid instant cameras have gone out of fashion. John Buckle, who runs The Photographer's Gallery shop in London, said he has seen a rising number of people buying them.
"I think people love the effect of using a Polaroid camera and film that you don't get with digital cameras. It's the same reason people still love vinyl - it's the way it looks and feels.
"We're selling more and more as Polaroid make fewer and fewer. We're now selling refurbished Polaroid cameras from the 1970s and I think that interest is going to grow because it's a design classic that everyone recognises."
He added: "We hope that someone else will take over the licence and manufacture the film and cameras again because I certainly can see there's a niche market out there, people who still really want to shoot on Polaroid."
Sunday Herald fashion photographer Chris Blott said that although he doesn't use Polaroids in his professional line of work any more, he still uses them for fun.
"I just shot a wedding for a friend last weekend and we shot the whole thing on digital, but I also set up a studio in the evening and shot Polaroids of the guests.
"The reason I did that was because it balanced the very clinical stuff you get with digital. Polaroid is a one-off, it's organic and there's something really special about Polaroids and that's why I'm a fan of them.
"There's that anticipation, that minute of having to wait for the image to be revealed. It's brilliant. It's the magic of film. It's pure and enjoyable."
He added: "I've still got a Polaroid and it takes the most amazing photo-graphs and I still shoot with that for fun, but I don't think the film will be made any longer, which is a real shame," he added.
Andy Warhol was probably the most famous artist to use Polaroids, in the production of his silkscreens. So important were they to his art, the manufacturers kept the model Warhol used in production especially for him.
Celebrity photographer Rankin is also known for his love of Polaroids. He exhibited thousands of Polaroid images he had taken throughout his career in a series of exhibitions in 2006 and 2007, where he sold each of them for £500.

Saturday, February 9, 2008



By Ken Johnson

Published: February 8, 2008

Back in 1989, when SoHo was still a booming contemporary-art center,
Barbara Bloom produced a memorably trenchant installation called "The
Reign of Narcissism" at Jay Gorney Modern Art on Greene Street. It
was in the form of a neo-Classical period room in an imaginary museum
dedicated to one Barbara Bloom. There were faux-antique marble busts
portraying Ms. Bloom; fine teacups watermarked with her image; a
38-volume set of "The Complete Works of Barbara Bloom"; a tombstone
with a carved epitaph that said, "She traveled the world to seek
beauty" and many more artifacts testifying to the transcendent
qualities of a great artist.

Coming at a time when monsters of ambition like Julian Schnabel,
Anselm Kiefer and Jeff Koons roamed the artscape, Ms. Bloom's
construction nicely skewered the cult of genius, the triumph of
moneyed taste and the vanity of the excessively privileged.

It's too bad the International Center of Photography did not recreate
"The Reign of Narcissism" for its disappointing survey of Ms. Bloom's
career. It would have been wonderfully apposite for today's
Chelsea-centered art world.

Instead of the walk-in theatrical installations for which Ms. Bloom
is best known, "The Collections of Barbara Bloom" displays pieces
from different phases of her career as discrete works of sculpture,
assemblage, collage, photography and design. Despite its ironic,
overarching concept of the artist as an eccentric, narcissistic
collector and curator of her own history, the show is confusingly
fragmentary. It feels like a selection of outtakes for the big show
that would have done full justice to Ms. Bloom's mercurial talent.

Not that the exhibition is devoid of resonant objects. A headless
mannequin in a slinky white dress with buttons down one side bearing
photographs of this artist's mother, a Hollywood actress in the
1940s, '50s and '60s, is a marvel of autobiographical condensation.
The framed photograph of a chicken viewing itself in a mirror placed
in a corner next to an actual mirror is funny and philosophically
provocative. The sheets of fake postage stamps bearing reproductions
of artworks by Ed Ruscha, Allan McCollum and Harold Edgerton suggest
that Ms. Bloom has the soul of a great art director.

Many pieces, however, are not so interesting on their own. Butterfly
cases with small, found printed items pinned inside like specimens
reveal too little about Ms. Bloom's interest in the novelist and
lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov. Some items are irritatingly clever -
a Braille edition of Playboy magazine as a found object, for example.
A set of unremarkable photographs hanging behind sheer curtains that
you have to draw aside to see is a dull play on photography and

One set of works from 2001, called "Broken," would have been more
effective sequestered in its own more intimate space. Each work is
composed of a piece of Japanese ceramic ware that was repaired with
gold lacquer, an X-ray of that object, a found photograph of a
performing acrobat in a frame with shattered glazing, and a beautiful
Japanese-style paper container for the ceramic piece. What the wall
label does not explain is that Ms. Bloom created the series after
falling out of a window and breaking many bones. In the overly busy
context of the show, that poignant, personal dimension is lost.

What is also likely to escape viewers is the exhibition's overall
concept. According to the catalog essay by Dave Hickey, Ms. Bloom's
vision for the show was inspired by the auction catalog for the
estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. So a semi-fictive, subtly
mocking overlay projects the artist as an exquisitely tasteful and
erudite collector. Sections with enigmatic titles like "Innuendo,"
"Blushing," "Charms" and "Stand Ins" add to the idea, but in ways
more often mystifying than revealing.

The show's catalog, which mimics an auction catalog, realizes the
concept more clearly. Along with numbered images of everything in the
exhibition, it includes pictures of many objects not in the show -
eye-test charts from around the world that Ms. Bloom has collected,
for example. It is annotated by the art historian Susan Tallman in an
entertaining, novelistic style that subtly ridicules the idea of the
great lady artist-aesthete and satirizes the commodification of art
and artists.

As installed in the center's insufficiently luxurious and
architecturally amorphous galleries, however, the idea of the
high-end estate sale and the implied socio-cultural critique lose all
traction. Still, there is the prevailing effect of an intriguing,
divided sensibility, one that combines effete, ultra-refined
romanticism and tart, gimlet-eyed skepticism.

Ms. Bloom, who was born in 1951, belongs to a generation of artists,
including Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince, who
shared a mission to expose the subliminal ideologies of modern visual
culture. They were ambivalent about both high and low art, but they
produced works of impressive visual glamour.

That Ms. Bloom, unlike those artists, did not forge a singular,
brandable style, may be to her credit. But when her oeuvre is
displayed in the scattershot way it is here, the core purpose
underlying her insouciant diversity is regrettably obscured.
Sometimes you wish an artist could have a do-over.





"The Collections of Barbara Bloom" is on view through May 4 at the
International Center of Photography, 1133 Avenue of the Americas, at
43rd Street, (212) 857-0000,

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Friday, February 8, 2008

Ed Ruscha, "A MAN OF FEW WORDS" by Emma Forrest


Ed Ruscha, one of the creators of pop art, talks
to Emma Forrest about earthquakes, inspirations -
and the artists he rates today

Wednesday February 6, 2008

At 70 years of age, clean-shaven, with thick
white hair and a fine physique, the artist Ed
Ruscha is disarmingly handsome. He looks
something like his close friend Dennis Hopper,
but even more like a tidied-up Harry Dean
Stanton. He has on a grey sweatshirt, blue jeans,
normal-looking sneakers and spectacles that might
be expensive. His voice sounds luxurious, too.
Not posh, but lush and comforting, a slight Jack
Nicholson drawl. As I enter his studio, Woody,
his dog and mascot, comes running at me with a
combination of kisses and growls. "Woody senses
you're a writer," Ruscha says, deadpan.

Interviews are hard with Ed Ruscha, one of the
creators of pop art, his work appearing alongside
that of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol in the
groundbreaking 1962 LA show New Painting of
Common Objects. Not because he's difficult - but
because he's so agreeable. (Incidentally, a note
on the correct pronunciation of that name: it's

Posit a take on his work - which straddles
painting, drawing and photography, and challenges
our ideas about what life is like in the modern,
media-saturated city - and he'll smile and
answer: "I think you're right." Or he'll blink
and say: "That makes a lot of sense ... Would you
like some more water?" You don't really get the
feeling he's being evasive. He's just midwestern,
from Nebraska, the absolute centre of the
country. Perhaps that's why he seems somehow
centred. Far from having an artist's temperament,
he is like a farmer who just happened to wander
into that cavernous studio of his in Venice,
California, and start, well, working. Asked how
it felt to represent America at the 2005 Venice
Biennale, after decades of slow-simmering
acclaim, he concedes: "That was very ... good. It
was quite a surprise, and a good one." Still, he
wanted to get back to LA. "The more I travel," he
says, "the more I want to be home."

Home has been California since he left Nebraska
to study at Cal-Arts, thinking he would like to
be a sign painter, but soon gravitating to visual
art. Back then, California was a wasteland for an
artist. Ruscha never cared. "I equate the eastern
side of the country with the industrial side of
America," he says, "and the west with open
spaces." California has been the undercurrent of
so much of his work, from his 1966 book of
photographs, Every Building On the Sunset Strip
(true to its title), to that 1962 group show,
which inaugurated the concept of pop art, then
seen as so shocking.

"I hate to see change here," he says. "I'm very
stodgy. I'm always looking at old photos of
California and Los Angeles, knowing that what I'm
looking at is now full of houses. There used to
be vacant lots in Los Angeles, now all taken up
by three-storey boxes - it's all getting

According to the dictionary, "infilled" isn't a
word, but then this is the man who sealed his
reputation with "word paintings", visual
interpretations of words and phrases: Lisp
(powdered graphite and pencil on paper, 1966);
Ding (gunpowder and pastel on paper, 1971);
Amusing Alloys (acrylic on paper, 1991). LA may
be "infilled", but isn't it also pretty wild,
with roaming coyotes and raccoons? "Possums are
all over Venice," he nods. "They're nasty. Don't
you challenge one." I won't. "Well ... good."

It becomes hard not to make word paintings in
your head when talking to Ruscha. I look over at
Woody, panting by the desk: Well ... Good (dog
saliva, 2008). But it's not just possums here.
There are earthquakes, landslides. All your art
could just crumble overnight. "That thought is
always there. It's sort of exciting."

Born in Omaha in 1937, Ruscha says his first
visual memory is of seeing an owl in a tree when
he was two. "That's my connection to that place
in my life," he says. "The owl was hooting. I
think that I saw that owl. But you know how
stories ... " Change over time? I read out a
press release for his current show at the
Gagosian Gallery in London. Describing the
hanging of old paintings side by side with new
renderings of the same image, it talks about "the
lie at the core of the work". He sits up
straight. "The lie at the core?" He turns the
phrase over on his tongue. "The lie at the core.
Huh. That's a different way to look at it. That's
not something I'm intending people to see."

What are you intending people to see? He shrugs.
"I have no social agenda with my work. I'm
deadpan about it." The traditional midwestern
qualities again. "Uh-huh. Could be." It seems
that what has always been labelled "California
art" is actually California seen through the lens
of midwestern values. "I was raised with the
Bible belt mentality, and by coming to
California, I came out of this dark place and
unlearned a lot of things I'd been taught."

What must his family have thought when he decided
to become an artist? "My father didn't like it so
much, because it was not practical. He was
sceptical until he read an article about Walt
Disney that said he was a benefactor of my
school. Then my father said, 'Keep going there!'"
Ruscha's dad died before seeing his son's
success. His mother continued to suggest he would
make a good weatherman. "I said, 'It sounds
interesting, but I'll get to that tomorrow.'"

Inspired by Jasper Johns' interpretation of
numbers, letters, targets and other "things we
have looked at but not examined", Ruscha stuck
with art school, never dreaming he would ever
sell a painting. The first 10 shows he had, he
didn't. "The real drive was to impress my friends
and colleagues, people I respected. What's
greater than that? I basically got down on my
hands and knees and wanted their approval."

Thinking back to the 1962 show, he says: "There
was a common thread, not necessarily visual. We
felt very sympathetic towards one another, but
the work was nothing alike." And looking back on
his work, he is pleased by his restraint. "I
didn't have to fill up a picture frame." You're
restrained as a person, too? "Maybe." That seems
unusual for a famous artist. "Could be."

I am stunned when he tells me that the painting
that has most inspired him is Millais' Ophelia,
showing her drowning in a stream, having been
driven mad. "It's a prominent work in my life as
an artist. I saw it when I was 21, 22, and I've
made many pilgrimages to it." But you're so, not,
mad. "I saw other things beyond the romance of
the tragedy. There's this figure and you're
looking down on it and there's a woodsy beauty to
it, the greens and water that really had a
message to me. I was thinking about it when I
painted The Los Angeles County Museum On Fire."

He admires Tracey Emin and Bill Woodrow; are
there artists working in other mediums with whom
he feels on the same wavelength? "The Coen
brothers are really great. No Country for Old Men
was particularly good. All of their movies are.
David Lynch, I have to say, has really got some
good things going. Mulholland Drive - that was
good! And Inland Empire ... " His voice is
excited. "I didn't like that one. Long and drawn

Because life in LA necessitates being in cars,
the radio here is nothing if not lively. Many
hours of drive-time, filled with words - ideal
for a word painter. "Yeah, yeah!" he says.
"There's two stations you can get on to at the
same time. Most radios will pick up the
neighbouring station for some reason. I like
that! I like hearing weird music over the top of
a stock report. The clashing of two unlike
things: that is the key to all our problems.
Introducing another unplanned thing into a fact
of life, an antagonistic thing that somehow makes
something new."

Ruscha has never gone in search of a word or
phrase for a painting. "They happen, fairly
fluidly. I've never said, 'I haven't had an idea
in three days - I have to go look at a
dictionary.'" Ever been haunted by a word? "I've
had a lot bounce around that never get
addressed." But not in a bothersome way? He
points to the back of the studio, where a new
painting bears the legend: "HOT RIP STOP". "They
come out of mystery, the mystery of the brain."
He smiles. "To try to explain is a fruitless

In 1969, when he didn't want to paint any more
because he felt it was just putting a skin on a
surface, he began to take a canvas and stain it -
tobacco juice, blood - so the substance went down
into the fabric. "Then I went back to painting,"
he says. It all sounds so simple and easy, and
utterly without ego. "Part of ego," he says,
petting Woody's ears, "is displaying the ego.
I've got ego and I think I'm really good. But
maybe I fall down in trying to sell it to people."

When he walks me out, he signs two copies of
Busted Glass, the catalogue from his last show of
drawings at the Gagosian. In my friend's copy, he
writes: "Happy trails." The urge to analyse the
real meaning of those two words is overwhelming,
such was his quiet and reserve. It makes what he
wrote in my copy seem sort of genius: "Rage on!
Ed Ruscha".




. Ed Ruscha: Paintings is at the Gagosian,
Britannia St, London, until March 15. Details:
020-7841 9960

Guardian Unlimited C Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

JUAN MUNOZ by Laura Cumming & Waldemar Januszczak

February 3, 2008


In Juan Munoz's dark places, you find the heir to
Spanish greats such as Goya, Dali, Picasso and

Waldemar Januszczak

Spain may have played a huge and heroic role in
the early chapters of modern art, with Picasso,
Miro, Dali and Julio Gonzalez all making critical
contributions, but, around the halfway mark of
the 20th century, this remarkable national effort
began to run out of steam - and, after Picasso's
death in 1973, it seemed to cease altogether. Of
course, the Spaniards the selves would
passionately disagree, as Spaniards do. They
would argue that the sculptor Eduardo Chillida
and the painter Antonio Tapies are important
modern figures. But I, too, am cruel and
demanding, and I beg to differ. Chillida and
Tapies are pequeños amos. The only truly
significant Spanish artist to have emerged since
the death of Picasso is Juan Muñoz. The evidence
has just gone on show at Tate Modern.

Muñoz will be best known to British audiences for
Double Bind, the mysterious grey mega-structure
with ascending lifts and spying figures that he
built inside the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in
2001, in the second of the Unilever series of
unusually large Tate installations. Muñoz
followed Louise Bourgeois into the Tate's grand
canyon and, by a mild coincidence, he is doing so
again now, for, just as Bourgeois's superb and
passionate retrospective closes at Tate Modern,
so Muñoz's retrospective opens. In one sad
respect, however, there is no similarity between
them. Because Bourgeois, amazingly, is still
alive and still making challenging art at the age
of 96. While Muñoz, alarmingly, died in the year
that Double Bind was unveiled. He was 48.

The Turbine Hall has never felt as threatening
and sinister as it did when filled by Double
Bind. I still feel this late-night car park of a
sculpture creeping about my imagination now,
unsettling me for no good reason. But trying to
recall its exact geography is a challenge. Most
of the action seemed to take place in the
shadows, between floors, beyond edges, at the
ends of vistas. Which is how Muñoz's art always
operates. It's an art of corridors and corners,
whispers and glimpses, suggestions and inferences.

Typically, his retrospective opens before you
enter it, with a series of miniature Spanish
balconies arranged high up on the vestibule wall,
flanked by a set of iron signs saying "Hotel".
These tiny additions manage to have a mighty
effect, because they successfully imply that the
Tate's blank and functional interior is actually
a mysterious Spanish exterior: a narrow street
filled with hotels and the naughty rustles of
discreet liaisons between passing strangers that
a hotel sign must always encourage.

That, of course, is my reading of Hotel Declercq,
made in 1986, but I feel no nervousness in
sharing it with you, because Muñoz was clear
about his ambition to involve the spectator fully
and actively in his mysteries. He saw himself as
a story-teller, a presenter of situations through
which you, the audience, are encouraged to wander
and draw your own conclusions. Where other
sculptors sculpt with touchable materials and
carvable stuffs, Muñoz works with unseen things:
the mood of a room, its spatial feel. So much of
his sculpting is done in the psychological

He came late to sculpture; he came late to art.
Born in Madrid in 1953, he blundered down various
scholarly alleys, and tried his hand at curating
and writing, before finally emerging, in the
middle of the 1980s, as the first Spanish
sculptor of note of the postFranco era. The
earliest works in this show were made in 1982.
And, as he died in 2001, we have before us the
contents of a strikingly short and concentrated
career. Yet that is not how it feels. An
impressive number of swings and variations were
achieved in his absurdly brief stay, and his work
never appears rushed or speeded up. The
mysterious unveilings in this show always do
their jobs at a notably languid and dreamy pace.

At the far end of this retrospective, you will
find Many Times, the second most ambitious piece
he ever made, after Double Bind. It consists of
100 milling figures arranged in groups around a
room through which you, too, are encouraged to
meander and investigate. The figures are nearly
life-sized, and spooky. All of them are bald. All
wear the same grey and functional work uniforms
that Muñoz came to prefer. And, although they are
all posed differently, and seem to be busily
involved in different moments, you note quickly
that all sport exactly the same grinning Asiatic
face. No clues, no prompts, no agendas. All you
can do is blunder among these mysterious baldies
and suspect what they are up to.

I decided soon enough that their combined effect
was deliberately reminiscent of the Terracotta
Army, and that perhaps something cynical was
being said about the uniformity of Chinese
factory conditions.

But, having now come home and puzzled about it
further, I no longer suspect any of that. Muñoz
is never that literal. And, sitting at my desk, I
am getting weird whispers from my own body,
telling me the sensation of moving between
Muñoz's figures, trying not to brush against them
or knock any of them over, is a more compelling
aspect of the sculpture than the meaning of the
grinning figures. From beyond the grave, Muñoz is
still pulling my strings.

That said, the mad perma-grins on the faces of
the identical Asiatics struck me as a
quintessentially Spanish expression. Something is
being mocked in that particularly bitter and
savage way that the Spanish enjoy. Think of Goya.
Think of Dali. Muñoz's debt to his national
tradition is made even clearer at the start of
the show by a series of early works featuring the
lonely figure of a dwarf. The dwarf was
introduced into art by Velazquez, who famously
questioned the reality of his times by
encouraging a misshapen array of little people to
stare at it extra-fiercely. In Velazquez's day,
the royal dwarf was the only member of court
allowed to question the decisions of the king.
Muñoz's art appears to grant him this same
licence to challenge.

A haunting piece from 1988 shows the dwarf
pressed against a wall behind three large
Solomonic columns that seem to imprison him as
they compare their large, twisting size with his.
A nearby work, called The Prompter, is dominated
by a large stage decorated with geometric
patterns; only some stumpy legs, poking out of
the bottom of the prompt box at the front,
identify it as another dwarf sculpture. The
silence is deafening. No play is being performed.
There is nothing to prompt. It's a fabulously
poignant ensemble.

Although Muñoz is rightly credited with ushering
in a new era of figurative sculpture in the
1980s, his first interest was minimalism; and, no
matter how high the body count grows in his art,
or appears to grow, he never gave up the precise
placement of shapes in space that minimalism
demands. His colour schemes, too, are strikingly
spare. The entire show has been created out of a
narrow range of monochrome greys, browns and
blacks. Even Muñoz's "paintings" - a revelation
to me, as I was only dimly aware that he had
produced any - are made with white chalks on
black fabrics.

I was much taken by these strange black pictures.
A set of haunting interiors of what seems to be
an ordinary apartment into which the light has
seeped in dark, Hitchcockian pools was
particularly fascinating. Although the monochrome
colour schemes are flavoured with minimalism -
Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt were Muñoz's named
favourites - these dark, mysterious paintings
hark back also to the black-and-white moods of
Spanish baroque art - to Velazquez, again, and
Zurbaran. Like so many aspects of this show, the
Spanishness of the colour schemes builds slowly
and spookily, becoming ever more insistent. It
wasn't until I reached the end that I finally
realised how many of Muñoz's key concerns, from
the dwarfs to the mirrors, from the empty
architecture to the constant whispering and
murmuring, are derived directly from Velazquez's
quintessential Spanish masterpiece Las Meninas.
Unless, of course, I am merely imagining it.

Pics <>


Juan Muñoz: A Retrospective is at Tate Modern, SE1, until April 27

© Copyright 2008 Times Newspapers Ltd.



The enigmatic works of the great Spanish sculptor
and showman Juan Muñoz amuse and unsettle in a
welcome retrospective

Laura Cumming

Sunday January 20, 2008

The Observer

Spanish artist Juan Muñoz died suddenly of a
heart attack on a hot August day in 2001. He was
48 and at the height of his powers. The
obituaries rang with incredulity that such a
vivid spirit could possibly be gone, but the
shock was also unexpectedly real for anyone
visiting Tate Modern that summer.

Muñoz had transformed the Turbine Hall as no
other artist before or since into a parallel
world secreted between two floors. At the bottom
of the building, in a Stygian gloom pierced only
by shadows falling from tenement wells above, a
secret service of grey-suited figures performed
an enigmatic drama in a network of balconies and
corridors: an unforgettable embodiment of

But as you rose higher up Tate Modern, all trace
of what you had seen mysteriously disappeared.
Lifts descended but brought nobody back. Shafts
in the floor turned out to be trompe l'oeil
images, leading nowhere. The experience was
somewhere between Magritte, Piranesi, Dante and
Fritz Lang, except that you moved through it in
three dimensions. Double Bind, as it was called,
was an astonishing experience for the mind and
eye. How impossible that it should be the
sculptor's last work.

Juan Muñoz set out to astonish. His art is more
like showbusiness - silent film, illusion,
vaudeville, mime - than conventional sculpture.
His best-known works involve nearly lifesize
figures in dramatic monologues or groupings,
performers who inspire bewilderment, laughter or,
more usually, disquiet in the audience. For we
seem to constitute something more than mere
viewers for these characters, as he called them,
to co-exist with or even for them.

Take Many Times, one of the signature works in
the posthumous retrospective that begins its
European tour, appropriately, at Tate Modern next
week. In the central gallery, you will encounter
a great throng of figures, a hundred apparently
identical Chinese men, all bald, all grinning, in
hugger-mugger confabs. As soon as you appear
among them, you will simultaneously feel
excluded, left out of the party or the secret or
whatever the private joke may be. Yet with their
unreadable expressions - surely they can't all be
laughing at the same thing? - they seem equally
alien to us.

Part of the grim comedy is precisely that they
all look the same: an optical illusion of
European perceptions. 'For Western people,' Muñoz
said, 'it seemed to me that Chinese people are
like a visual trick. I would make the noses
shorter, the eyes larger, but still they all look
like the same guy.'

He, or his cousin, appears seven times in Towards
the Corner, a much-travelled work you might have
seen in museums elsewhere. Here, the figures are
assembled on wooden bleachers, laughing heartily
at some event in the corner. Entering from behind
them, you are irresistibly drawn to discover
what's so funny, but, in so doing, position
yourself as the butt of the joke. The defensive
thought occurs that if you weren't there, they
would still be laughing, wouldn't they, but
laughing at what - their own collective absurdity?

The Spaniard is one of art's great late-starters.
He only came to sculpture at the end of his
twenties, having run away from Madrid to London
at the age of 17 and experimented with all sorts
of other art forms first. The earliest works from
the 1980s are elegantly absurdist. Architectural
fragments blossoming out of dead walls: banisters
that wiggle as if one were sashaying down
non-existent stairs; hotel signs above
wrought-iron balconies that lead nowhere. They
turn you into an actor, too, as you look up and
inevitably imagine looking down, catching
yourself as a passer-by on some Spanish plaza.

The suspension that is a balcony - neither in nor
out, neither here nor exactly there - is an apt
emblem for what followed. Muñoz began to make
figures imprisoned by their in-between states:
stringless marionettes, ventriloquists' dummies
waiting alertly for a ventriloquist to give them
words, a stage prompt poised in his box before a
bare stage.

In Stuttering Piece, two seated figures are
stymied by the never-ending dialogue repeated on
loop between them:

'What did you say?'

'I didn't say anything.'

'You never say anything.'

'No. But you keep coming back to it.'

Beckett and Borges, TS Eliot and David Mamet:
Muñoz was the most literary of sculptors. The
dummy waiting to come alive is stranded on a
shelf on the other side of an optical illusion of
a floor so convulsive it looks impossible to
cross - a wasteland leading to silence. Another
trademark figure is mired from the waist down in
a sphere like a large, grey Weeble. Helpless,
tragi-comic, a little foolish, he or she must
endure this sticking point forever, like Winnie
buried up to her bosom in Beckett's Happy Days

The greyness of the figures is crucial - they
must be as naturalistic as us, yet unrealistic
enough to be Other. Muñoz hit upon grey after
experimenting with other colours and one sees why
it succeeds by comparison. A white female dwarf
looks too much like a plaster body cast (which,
in fact, she was); a terracotta dwarf looks too
much like traditional sculpture.

This Dwarf With a Box (1988) stands in his suit
upon a desk that brings him roughly to our level.
But his eyes are closed, breaking the connection
and repudiating the supposed advantage of height.
You are thwarted, given the cold shoulder if you
like. It is an inarticulate reproof that leaves
one stuck for words.

Muñoz was never afraid of courting narrative even
as he blocked it. You could make something of the
chess box beneath the dwarf's arm, or the row
blowing up in Conversation Piece, or the man with
his face pressed so hard against the mirror you
sense a horrible revelation dawning like that of
Narcissus in reverse.

But even though his art veers in the direction of
speech, of drama and dialogue, prologue and
climax, at its best it conveys illusions,
sensations or emotions that can't easily be put
into words. Wax Drum is exactly as it sounds - a
mute instrument, lacking the necessary skin. But
plunged into it is a pair of scissors that
somehow represents in one devastating gesture the
whole of its defencelessly deafened state.

And high above the concourse at Tate Modern,
already in place, two grey men are suspended in
mirth. Out of the mouth of one of them trips a
line of tiny iron figures in gesturing poses that
cannot themselves be read. The joke is private;
you're not in on the anecdote and yet the piece
inspires corresponding laughter in the viewer.
And perhaps that is Muñoz's grave point:
laughter, like sorrow, exists beyond words and
long before speech.

Pics <>

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

Thursday, January 31, 2008

'BANKSY'S IDEAS HAVE THE VALUE OF A JOKE' by Matthew Collings & "ART ATTACK" by Peter Kennard

January 28, 2008


The respect given to 'street art' is a measure of
how puerile and idiotic contemporary art has

Matthew Collings

Do you like adolescent entertainment? Do you have
the mentality of a teenager? Do you find Cézanne
a bit overrated? If the answer is yes, yes and
yes, then I don't know what to do with you. You
are a childish philistine literalist. Get down to
Bonhams (one of the world's oldest and largest
auctioneers of fine art and antiques) next
Tuesday for their first-ever dedicated sale of
"street art" - this is the experience for you.

"Street art" means graffiti, comics-style stuff,
spray-paint art, flyposting - the art of groovy
youth. The stars of the street-art sale will
include Banksy, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel
Basquiat, Antony Micallef, Adam Neate, Faile,
Paul Insect, Space Invader, Swoon, D*Face and
Shepard Fairey.

Basquiat, who died of an overdose in 1988, was
funny and witty, and he had a great sense of
bitter irony about black cultural history: he
shared this sensibility with many people. But he
was a great mark-maker, an arranger of forms, he
could make surfaces breath and colours sing, and
all this made him extremely rare. As an artist
Haring (who died of an Aids-related illness three
years after Basquiat) was nothing like in
Basquiat's league: he had commercial appeal but
was too visually repetitive and sterile to be
significant beyond his own brief moment.
Basquiat's shining light shows up the visual
boredom of the rest of the "street art" crew -
they are funny and punky, sure, but, well, who

Gareth Williams, the urban-art specialist at
Bonhams, says: "By transposing their images from
street wall to canvas, urban artists are now
creating a permanent legacy without compromising
the vitality of their art." Poor Williams - how
giddy and weightless life must be for him, to be
in the business of using words without having any
interest in what they mean.

"Vitality" is what Matisse or Goya has, or
Islamic mosaics, or Greek statues, or abstract
paintings by Jackson Pollock - all that old
obscure stuff. Vitality in art is a rare quality,
it means life - you see it and you feel life is
worth living. It goes with originality and
surprise, a mixture of the fresh and the eternal.
It's found throughout the history of art. It's
the opposite of convention and routine. The point
about street art is that it has to conform to
street-art convention. It has to be a routine. It
has to express the personality of a stoner,
grinning, funny and kidlike.

What can you get at the auction? You can be the
owner of Banksy's Laugh Now, in stencil paint on
canvas, for only £40,000. It shows a chimp with a
sign round its neck that reads: "You can laugh
but one day we'll be in charge." What would you
really be buying? A status symbol - the work has
no value as art. But owning it would make you
modern and clever. Or stupid. It's a fine line.

A work by Banksy sold at auction for £288,000
last April. He is collected by Damien Hirst, who
we know is incredibly wealthy - but so what?
Hirst's paintings of his son being born cost £1
million each and visually they are junk. They are
only valuable because of a market consensus, not
because they connect to anything important. Most
of life is made up of trivia, and there's nothing
wrong with celebrating it. But it's something
else again to revere it as if it's the pyramids;
there's something sick about that.

"Street art" is adolescent. With the exception of
Basquiat, the artists whose work is on sale at
Bonhams next week are talented people in that
area, but the area itself is of absolutely no
interest unless you've got an arrested mentality.
Its rise as something to take seriously says
something about the weird state of art now. The
core of art today is satire and gags and
attention-getting stunts. As a society we all
kind of know this but somehow we also accept that
it's a social faux pasever to mention it. Banksy
being considered a "conceptual artist" is only a
measure of how banal and feeble the "concepts" of
contemporary art are, and an indication of art's
slide into all-out philistinism. To appear
tuned-in we now have to pretend that a literal
crack in the floor at Tate Modern means global
unease (the latest commission by Tate Modern in
its annual Unilever series), that a lot of real
people standing on a marble plinth means
"humanity" (Anthony Gormley's proposal for a new
work on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square)
and that Marc Quinn's new sculptures at White
Cube of foetuses are "influenced by Michelangelo".

Banksy's ideas only have the value of a joke.
What is an idea in real or high art? This is a
puzzle for Williams, Bonhams press-release
writer, but also apparently a puzzle for the
guardians and spokespersons of culture now. When
contemporary-art explainers are asked on to Radio
4's Front Row or BBC Two's Late Review to enthuse
about new art shows, the hosts never challenge
the rubbish they spout. Mark Lawson doesn't know
about art, but also he doesn't want to seem
offensive. And yet he does know about ideas, and
he must see that Anthony Gormley doesn't really
have them in any important sense - Lawson starts
reasonably enough, not wanting to appear gauche
in a conversation about art, but he ends up
actually believing the bullshit.

The result is a culture subscribed to by many,
many intelligent people, in which another level
of meaning operates where art is concerned than
the level that operates for, say, books by J. M.
Coetzee. With the former we accept an unaesthetic
experience and an explanation that is shallow
where it is not incomprehensible. And with the
latter we're in awe of wit, learning, craft,
knowledge and surprise; we're amazed that the
depths of what it feels like to be a suffering,
feeling, joyful, thinking human being right now
can be captured by art. With Banksy (as with
Hirst) we're just amazed that he could be so rich.

Laughing all the way to the Banksy

Online bidding for a wall painted on by Banksy
closed earlier this month with a final price of
£208,100, after 69 bids. The owner of the wall,
Luti Fagbenle, estimated that the cost of removal
of the piece would be around £5,000, to be paid
by the buyer.

In October 2006, a Banksy painting used for the
cover of Blur's Think Tank album - of an
embracing couple dressed in deep-sea diving gear
- sold at Bonhams for £62,400, ten times the
original estimate.

The previous month, the graffiti artist staged a
show in Los Angeles, at which Angelina Jolie is
reported to have spent £200,000 on his work.
Christina Aguilera is another celebrity fan - she
visited Banksy's Soho gallery during a trip to
London in April 2006 and paid £25,000 for three
works, including one depicting Queen Victoria in
a lesbian clinch with a prostitute.

Bombing Middle England, a painting of pensioners
playing bowls with bombs, fetched a whopping
£102,000, more than double its highest estimated
price of £50,000, at Sotheby's in February last

In the same sale, Banksy's Balloon Girl sold for
£37,200, and another work called Bomb Hugger for

© Copyright 2008 Times Newspapers Ltd.



Peter Kennard

Published 17 January 2008

Banksy attracts the press attention, but around
him is an increasingly influential movement of
political artists operating outside the mainstream

The phone rings; the number is withheld. It's
Banksy. He wants to know whether I can go to
Bethlehem over Christmas. He is putting on an
exhibition, bringing together like-minded artists
from all over the world to raise awareness of the
situation in Palestine. Like the annual guerrilla
art shows that have taken place in London for the
past six years, it will be called "Santa's
Ghetto". Two weeks later, I find myself involved
in an experience that transforms my ideas about
what artists can do in the face of oppression.

We are living through an exciting time for
political art. I have been an artist for 40
years, and my work has always focused on
political and social issues. In the 1970s, I
started making photo montage work, drawing on
imagery from the Vietnam War and the row over
nuclear armaments (a retrospective opens at the
Pump House Gallery this month). Since the
build-up to the Iraq War in 2002, I have been
collaborating with a younger artist, Cat Picton
Phillipps, developing new techniques and using
digital technology to expose the lies that led to
the invasion and the subsequent humanitarian

Over this period, our work has become linked to a
group of young artists who work outside the
official art world. Most of them started out
painting graffiti on walls. The central figure in
this group is Banksy, but although he attracts
most of the press coverage, he is surrounded by a
growing band of talented, politically committed
artists. Our associates come from Spain and
Italy, the US, Britain and Palestine. Since the
era of the Bush/Blair war in Iraq, this movement
has become increasingly politicised, just as my
generation was politicised by the war in Vietnam.
These are artists who want to connect with the
real world, rather than work for the market,
which has more of a stranglehold on art than
ever. They combine creativity with protest,
insisting that art should be more than the icing
on the cake for the super-rich.

We arrived in Bethlehem with four fellow artists:
Blu, an Italian who has painted on walls from
Bologna to Buenos Aires; Sam3, from Spain; the
long-standing Banksy collaborator Paul Insect,
from Britain; and Gee Vaucher, another Brit and
the only other artist of my generation. The rest
are all in their thirties and come from
street-art backgrounds. All of them are well
informed about the Middle East and came to
Bethlehem to show their solidarity with the

Banksy had been to the West Bank a number of
times to paint on the Separation Wall. He knows
and understands the situation and had a team of
focused, sussed people working with him. They
found a disused fast-food joint in Manger Square
and managed to rent it. The idea was to show a
combination of western and Palestinian artists.
The art was available to buy on site only, so if
you wanted to get hold of the latest Banksy or
any of the other artworks, you would have to
travel to Bethlehem to place a bid. This was
important, because Bethlehem is being starved of
its tourist trade as visitors are bussed in to
see the Church of the Nativity and bussed out an
hour later back to Israel. All proceeds from the
sale, which exceeded $1m, went to local charities.

For our contribution, Cat and I decided to print
a dollar bill across 18 sheets of the Jerusalem
Post, ripped through to expose images of
pre-Naqba Palestine. The pictures show the
richness of Palestine's history and the diversity
of its culture - a sobering antidote to the
stereotype of a violent, irrational people that
we so often see on the news. We wanted to make
the work in Bethlehem because taking finished
pieces over would be difficult, given Israel's
heavy and ever-changing restrictions on what and
who can travel in to the Palestinian territories.

We teamed up with a group of Palestinians, who
helped to get hold of materials and sort out
logistics. They also gave us all a window on life
in the West Bank, with looming Israeli
settlements and endless checkpoints. Every night
we would pile into a kebab restaurant, where we
would drink and dance, arguing over and
discussing that day's work. One night over
dinner, the Palestinians recounted how they had
been held and tortured by the Israeli authorities
while they were still in their mid-teens. It was
extraordinary how welcoming they were to this
motley band of artists. All the privations and
restrictions have only increased the
Palestinians' resilience and their desire to
communicate with the outside world.

Through these friends we found a commercial
printing house in Hebron, which got involved in
sorting out our highly unconventional printing
needs. This involved printing a giant dollar
across many sheets of newspaper and also making a
giant print to plaster on the Separation Wall.
The printers immediately committed their time and
energy to the project, and ended up printing for
Banksy and the other artists.

Through this process of making, the people of
Bethlehem became involved in what the work was
saying. After we pasted our picture on the wall,
we went for tea in the cafe opposite. The cafe
owner, whose business has been destroyed by the
wall, told us he appreciated the statement we had
plastered on to the cement that he has to stare
at every day of his life.

Sticking up a poster or painting the Separation
Wall in the West Bank might sound
inconsequential, but these are highly practical
ways to help, in contrast to the intellectual
interventions prevalent in much contemporary art.
They contribute to a town and a people that are
having their lifeblood strangled out of them.

In this context, it is important that the work
communicates directly to the Palestinian people.
While there has been a move to take on
contemporary issues in a direct way in the
theatre, in visual art the idea still holds that
if you have something to say about the world, you
have to hide it behind theory and obscurity. It
sometimes seems that Britain's art colleges turn
out experts in camouflage, rather than fine art.

The pressure of world events is so great that it
is increasingly difficult to sustain the idea of
art for art's sake. Radical art and politics
converge in times of crisis, and that is
happening now. I know, from my experience as a
tutor at the Royal College of Art and at the
University of the Arts in London, that the
ironies of the Nineties YBA movement are now a
thing of the past. Many art students and young
artists are searching for ways to make a direct
connection between their awareness of how things
are in the world and their own art practice.

This involves thinking about not only the form of
the art itself, but also the process of making.
There are many collaborations taking place across
media and disciplines, and artists are looking
for new methods of distribution.

Unlike in my youth, there is no organised "left"
into which artists can slot, but there is a
concrete wall, 425 miles long, and we can turn it
into an international canvas of dissent.

"Uncertified Documents", a retrospective of work
by Peter Kennard, opens at the Pump House
Gallery, Battersea Park, London SW11 on 30

Four to watch

Blu burst on to the public-art scene after the
success of his contributions to the "Urban Edge"
show in Milan in 2005. His reputation is built on
expansive, surreal, often aggressive wall and
pavement murals. Though renowned for his
playfulness, acclaimed pieces from 2007, such as
Fantoche in Switzerland, Letter A in New York and
Reclaim Your City in Berlin, have a more macabre

Suleiman Mansour co-founded al-Wasiti Art Centre
in east Jerusalem, which he now directs, and went
on to lead the New Vision artists' group, which
proved influential during the first intifada. A
pioneer of resistance art, Mansour makes work
that revolves around the Palestinian struggle. He
was head of the League of Palestinian Artists for
four years, and won the Nile Award at the 1998
Cairo Biennale as well as the Palestine Prize for
the Visual Arts the same year. He is famous for
using locally sourced materials, such as mud and
henna, in his pieces.

Sam3 (Samuel Marín) comes from Granada in
southern Spain, where his ephemeral long, black
silhouettes haunt the cityscape. Famous works
include his 12 Shadows project for AlterArte and
the iconic Erase Yourself, a silent protest
against the civic legal authorities for removing
graffiti in Barcelona.

Paul Insect is a London-based ex-designer whose
pioneering of "steampunk", a mixture of Gothic
Victoriana and futuristic themes, has proved
popular with the British arts intelligentsia. In
July last year, Damien Hirst bought his entire
"Bullion" show at the Lazarides Gallery in Soho.
His painting Unicorn sold for an estimated
£24,500 at Sotheby's last month.

Pics <>





© New Statesman 1913-2007

Wednesday, January 30, 2008



Why do so many female artists put themselves in
their work - often with no clothes on?

Germaine Greer

January 28, 2008

It was my good fortune a week or so ago to hear
the Luce annual lecture on American creativity,
given by pioneer feminist art historian Linda
Nochlin. The title of her lecture was Dislocating
Tradition: Women Artists and the Body, from
Cassatt to Whiteread. Having for years grappled
in vain with the peculiar role of the body as
both medium and message in women's art, I
hotfooted down to the Royal Academy and prepared
to have my perplexities unknotted and my
vestigial puritan revulsions dispelled.

It is a truism of feminist history that women
have been regarded primarily as body, passive,
fertile body, as essential to human survival as
earth. If women artists were ever to engage with
anything, they were going to have to engage with
body as earnestly as Cézanne engages with
landscape, and so they did. The model became the
artist, but at the same time she clung to her
role as model, so that she became her own
subject. At first, this was manifest in a
tendency to produce an inordinate number of
self-portraits. In 18th-century France, Vigée-Le
Brun never tired of painting flattering portraits
of herself, which was quite a good move for a
society portrait painter, who was expected to do
a similar job on her clients. At the same time,
Angelika Kauffmann produced dozens of dreamy
versions of herself not only in portraits, but
also in allegorical paintings in which she
figured as the personification of art or music or
both. Frida Kahlo could engage with no subject
other than her fictionalised and glamorised self.
Her proliferating faux-naive paintings are
advertisements for the performance that was her

For the women artists of surrealism, in the words
of Whitney Chadwick, "the idealised version of
the woman as muse was no help ... rejecting the
idea of the Muse as Other, they turned instead to
their own images and their own realities as
sources for their art. Even when the subject of
the work is not the self-portrait per se, there
is a persistent anchoring of the imagery in
recognisable depiction of the artist." The
thought of art as solipsism has me tearing my
hair. The convention of the muse is simply a
trope figuring forth male creativity; if the
convention was useless to women, they could
simply have done without it, but, as most of them
also chose to become sexually involved with male
artists, they wasted a good deal of time playing
the muse's illusory role, apparently unaware that
the muse is rarely the artist's actual bedmate. A
male artist's recognition of his consort in the
role of muse is mere gallantry. Why did the women
artists of surrealism have to follow such a
sterile, narcissistic paradigm? As for their
images being recognisable, they made sure of that
by posing for at least as many photographs as
they made paintings. Most of them put more paint
on their faces in a lifetime than they did on

The advent of performance art produced a tide of
women artists, many of whom were not content with
starring in their own show without stripping.
Since the 1960s, when Carolee Schneeman took off
her clothes to perform art in New York basements,
I have wondered what the connection might be
between art and exhibitionism, and why it was
that so many of the nude female performance
artists had beautiful bodies. Could it have been
coincidence? Even Helen Chadwick, a serious
artist, took pride in displaying her own
wonderfully elegant young body when somebody
else's would have done.

Professor Nochlin explained to us that Sam
Taylor-Wood's Portrait (1993) in a Fuck Suck
Spunk Wank T-shirt, with her trousers around her
ankles, was a "marvellous parody" of Botticelli's
Birth of Venus. She pointed out that the cabbage
on the table was a reference to the volute out of
which the goddess steps in Botticelli's painting,
but she didn't explain why Taylor-Wood chose to
pose herself and let someone else (Stephen White)
take the photograph. Any of Taylor-Wood's
art-school chums could have put on the T-shirt
and adopted the pose, and Taylor-Wood could have
taken the photograph herself. Sarah Lucas's
self-portrait with fried eggs on her chest was
correctly described as "as arrogant as any male
portrait", but why did Lucas pose it herself? The
fried-egg reference would be as appropriate to
any other woman, no? Why is Tracey Emin the
subject of all her own work? Is this good or is
it pathological? Why does Jenny Saville
deconstruct her own body? Why can't she use
someone else's? There is a possible answer, which
is that the use of the nude is necessarily
exploitative, and therefore a female artist who
needs to use a body has no option but to use her
own, but surely it can be no more than a
sophistry. Why does a female artist need to use
flesh in the first place?

The feminist art historian can no more ask these
questions than she can ask why most women's art
is no good. Her duty is to cry up women's work,
to see it as reactive and transgressive, as
dislocating tradition indeed, when the painterly
tradition is always being jolted and set off on
contradictory tangents, more often and more
fundamentally by men than by women. The woman who
displays her own body as her artwork seems to me
to be travelling in the tracks of an outworn
tradition that spirals downward and inward to

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006

Tuesday, January 29, 2008



The gallery gold rush has allowed artists who've
spent decades on the fringes to grab at the prize.

By Jerry Saltz

Published Jan 24, 2008

One of the good things about the supposedly evil
art boom-setting aside for the moment the notion
that it may be destabilizing right now- is that
underknown mid-career artists are getting second
chances at recognition. In November, Mary
Heilmann, who is 67 and whose work has always
been respected but never A-listed, scored the
covers of Artforum and Art in America
simultaneously. Today, she's the subject of a
traveling retrospective, selling paintings for
upwards of $200,000. Amy Sillman, 52, made the
cover of Artforum last February, and her prices
have reached $85,000. After decades of neglect,
Marilyn Minter, now 59, not only ended up in the
last Whitney Biennial; her work was featured on
the cover of that show's catalogue, and her
paintings now sell for more than $130,000. Recent
seasons have seen the reemergence of Robert
Bechtle, Olivier Mosset, and Michael Smith, all
of whom, along with Heilmann, will be in this
spring's Whitney Biennial.

Joyce Pensato is the latest overlooked artist
getting a shot at the limelight. For more than
three decades, this Brooklyn artist has made
demonic black-and-white (or black-and-silver)
enamel paintings of cartoon characters. In her
Easter Island-meets-Disney-de Kooning-and-Warhol
portraits of Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, Mickey
Mouse, and others, Pensato combines the
gesturalism of action painting, the painterliness
of Abstract Expressionism, the blatancy of Pop,
and the wild style of graffiti. Warhol gave us
Double Elvis; Pensato paints a diabolical Double
Mickey. De Kooning destroyed the female form to
make his Woman paintings; Pensato destroys
preconceptions of cuteness and innocence. An
older woman is using Expressionistic male angst
to make these buggy subjects while pointing out a
disturbing racism inherent in many of our most
loved cartoon characters.

Pensato spikes her mix with the black-and-white
starkness of Christopher Wool and the defiant
abjection of Joan Jett's "I Hate Myself for
Loving You." To this she adds discredited strains
of East Village Expressionism, the stuff typical
of painters like Rick Prol and Richard Hamilton,
who spilled splattered paint at random. I also
see the garish bravado of near-forgotten German
neo-Expressionists like Rainer Fetting and Helmut
Middendorf. Her work even evinces traces of
nineteenth-century academic figuration.

In her gnarly Petzel show (open through this
Saturday), Pensato gives us a rogues' gallery of
raving, debased, pop-eyed beings-a pale
fright-mask Homer Simpson, a psychotic-looking
Felix the Cat, a slaphappy Daisy Duck, South
Park's Stan Marsh looking like a Warlock out of
H. G. Wells's The Time Machine. A few of
Pensato's new works are as voracious and haunting
as anything she's ever made. In fact, I would've
liked to see representative samples of the rest
of her art: Because all the works are paintings
of around the same size, depict similar subjects,
and display consistent surfaces and palette, the
show gets repetitious. Pensato is an
extraordinarily versatile artist who also makes
amazingly physical wall drawings and lush works
on paper, and, had she included a few of these
wonderful monstrosities, she might not need
another show after this one to prove her point.

Why all the newfound interest? For almost twenty
years the art world has been fixated on the
artists of the sixties and seventies as a kind of
"greatest generation." It goes without saying
that Nauman, Serra, Morris, et al. are fine
artists, but really, that's a misleading term.
"Greatest" means different things to different
people in different places at different times,
and every generation elects its own defining
artists. Nowadays, artists aren't automatically
rejecting isms, approaches, and styles that until
recently were deemed tainted. For the first time
in years, I know students who appreciate Julian
Schnabel and Anselm Kiefer unironically. Serious
mid-careerists such as Marlene Dumas or William
Kentridge or Huma Bhabha all employ types of
physicality, surface, and gesturalism, as well as
cut-and-paste assemblage-collage methods, that
are widely held to be dumpy eighties leftovers.
They are not, strictly speaking, part of the
preapproved, much cooler conceptual lineage that
still dominates galleries.

One artist who combines cool-school cerebralness
and assemblage is 53-year-old John Miller. Not
exactly undiscovered, Miller, who lives in Berlin
and New York, has been represented by Metro
Pictures Gallery for decades. In addition to
being a talented critic, he's known for a series
of wall works made of junk that has been painted
all brown. In the eighties and nineties, these
things were excellent analogs for the
intersection of abstraction, scatology, commodity
art, and the rise and fall of the art market.
These ugly-beautiful puddings made him into a
brown version of Yves Klein, he of the all-blue
monochrome paintings. Then Miller stopped making
them and produced over-ironic installations and
paintings involving game shows.

He's back to making monochrome paintings. Only
now they're gold. This makes them perfect
metaphors for the fusion of new money and new
art. On view at Petzel through Saturday (along
with another show at Metro, through February 9),
Miller's gaudy gold-leaf bas-reliefs look
simultaneously like Schnabel plate paintings, the
ocean floor, ersatz architectural artifacts,
kitschy bling, and modern-day Dutch still lifes
touched by Midas. They play a snarky,
Quasimodo-like American cousin to Damien Hirst's
$100 million death's-head bauble. But where Hirst
goes with diamonds and death, Miller gives us
soda cans, sunglasses, belts, and bras, in effect
putting a clown nose on Hirst's skull.

It's not just nice that the market is allowing
dealers to take a flyer on artists who haven't
had enough chances. Artists like Miller and
Pensato are gaining relevance, as the art world
consciously looks for ways to not attack the
market as evil but try to comment on the system
from within, without playing directly into the
hands of commerce. (He doesn't need to sell
designer objets, for example, the way Takashi
Murakami does.) Miller's gewgaws can be seen as
modern equivalents to Warhol's dollar-sign
paintings and Daniel Buren's stripes-fetishes
that have no inherent value in themselves but
that externalize unconsciousness, destabilize our
relationship to art, and are vivid symbols for
their own status as placeholders for the rich.
These paintings could easily be labeled stylish
crap. Still, they're ornery and raffish and show
an artist being served by the market's excess,
our uneasy awareness of it, and artists grown
tired of greatest-generationalism.

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