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March 2004

NOTES & COMMENTS

ArtsJournal Bloggers MeetReaders
The founder and editor of ArtsJournal, Doug McLennan, had the bright idea of bringing together AJ's arts bloggers (well-known critics all) and readers (us among others) for an informal get-together early this month at the Landmark Tavern in mid-town New York. The indefatigable McLennan himself flew in from Seattle for the occasion. (Needless to say, there was lots of stimulating conversation about the arts, even as we found ourselves in disagreement with other critics much of the time.) Read all about it in the The Knickerbocker column of the New York Sun, where your humble editors were among the boldface names in the print edition (though just in plain type online).

Visual Culture at ArtsJournal
In its March 1st issue [scroll down to end of page], ArtsJournal cited Michelle Kamhi's article, "Rescuing Art from 'Visual Culture Studies'" (January 2004), giving our point of view on this controversial issue in art education further exposure in the culture at large.

"Spiritual without Going Gooey"
Like the "contemporary art" he often covers, David Cohen's criticism mystifies. Writing about the abstract painter Bill Jensen in the New York Sun (March 13), for example, Cohen says Jensen "is blessed with lyricism of line, a kind of suprapersonal calligraphy that is nonetheless intensely his own." Now there is something to ponder! Moreover, Jensen's brush is "always tempered, questioned, energized by awkwardness." How awkwardness can temper or question or energize anything is beyond our comprehension, but apparently not that of Cohen, who also has no difficulty discerning that Jensen "collapses the dichotomy of fast and slow." In Cohen's view, "The movements he describes and embodies seem, like geological forces, at once wayward and inevitable. They evolve at a mind-numbing gradual pace yet suddenly jerk forward cataclysmically." We are still puzzled. Finally, Cohen adds, all this motion in an abstract canvas enables Jensen "to embrace the spiritual without going gooey." Some accomplishment. Jensen's aptly named "Duo Duo" and "Drunken Brush" series of paintings--the former in bright colors, the latter (it appears) in black and white--were on view at the Danese Gallery in New York City through March 13. Admittedly, we did not see them in person, and the images available online are small compared to the originals. Still, ought not something of their "spiritual" nature come across, even in reproduction?

Dysfunctional Art
Doris Salcedo, of Colombia, creates "furniturelike object[s] based, like all her art, on the political violence in her country, according to New York Times critic Roberta "if-an-artist-says-it's-art-it's art" Smith ("Unveiling the Modern's Works from South of the Border," New York Times, March 5, 2004). Smith writes that Salcedo "transfers the violation wrought by personal loss to an object associated with is victim, [in one case] a chest [entitled "Untitled" (1995)] that has been disrupted and disfigured by ripping out its door and drawers, paving the empty spaces with cement and mounting two cement-filled chairs on the chest's top." What does this all mean, you may ask? Smith explains: "The dysfunctional chest and chairs serve as emblems of their owner, made mute by the feat of reprisal and also by the deaf ear of history. The paved-over spaces of the chairs and the chest indicate the obliteration of the body and its personal artifacts." They do? We could not find an online image of Untitled (1995), but one of another piece--Untitled (1998)--will serve just as well to convey exactly what it is that Salcedo does .

Weblog Sightings
Michelle Kamhi's article "Rescuing Art from 'Visual Culture'" continues to attract attention. Artblog.net featured an excerpt on March 2 (followed by responses from four readers). Washington, DC Art News (March 5) urged its readers to "please read" the article, which it had discovered through the ArtsJournal link cited above.

EXHIBITIONS: Rembrandt (1607-1669)--Still Relevant
At the Art Institute of Chicago through May 9, Rembrandt's Journey: Painter, Draftsman, Etcher is a not-to-be-missed opportunity for mid-westerners (and others more distant) to sample the astonishingly wide range of work of this protean artist. The portraits and self-portraits alone make this exhibition worth seeing. Special tickets are required. (Suggestion: if you attend, skip the audio tour--like all art, Rembrandt's is best viewed without some expert jabbering away in your ear.) Those who cannot journey to the windy city to view the exhibition in person may gain some sense of its riches from the catalogue.

Flavin's untitled
The board of trustees of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C., has approved the purchase of a drawing by "Minimalist artist" Dan Flavin [more] (1933-1996), titled untitled (to Barnett Newman to commemorate his simple problem, red, yellow and blue) [scroll down for an image of the work--which is on graphlike paper, though the grid is difficult to detect at this reduced size]. The so-called drawing is actually a plan for a "light installation" (or "light sculpture") that was never made by Flavin. As reported in a press release of the National Gallery, untitled (1970) is a gift from The Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation (headed by Frank Stella) in honor of Annalee G. Newman, and is one of a small group of pieces inspired by Barnett Newman [more] (1905-1970). According to the press release, the drawing "serves as a certificate of authenticity for a fluorescent light piece"--an arrangement of store-bought fluorescent tubes in red, yellow, and blue--to be fabricated by something called the "Flavin studio" in time for a planned retrospective of Flavin's work at the National Gallery in the fall (which, bear in mind, is supported in part by taxpayer dollars, yours and ours). The biggest fabrication of all here is, of course, the notion that any of Flavin's flourescent-tube arrangements--not to mention Newman's abstract paintings or Stella's various concoctions--are art. (For other examples of non-art at the National Gallery, see the online selection from its collection of "Painting and Sculpture of the Twentieth Century." Of the works pictured, only Picasso's painting of a family of clowns qualifies as art in our view.)

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