Monday, December 5, 2011

Stuckism vs. Suckism: What Is Modern Art?

I'd like to talk about boring modern art. We're all familiar with the type; huge, lofty, and hopelessly abstract monuments of intellectualism which fall flat on most folks. The type that earns it that special "modern art" stigma.

Why is art today this way?

Mark Di Suervo "Are Years What?" 1967. Washington, DC ● Di Suervo's piece conjures a derelict iron building.
The answer begins in the late 1800's with the startling transition the human condition underwent going from a non-industrial society to the modern world. The replacement of workers with machinery, as well as the crushing anonymity of the modern city generated an enormous amount of existential stress for the common man. Originality became a coveted rarity. Simplicity became a nostalgic desire. Within this climate artists like Gauguin, Picasso, Jean Arp, and Mondrian were sensationalized due to their uniquely reduced styles.

Mid-20th century witnessed a shift away from the rich expressiveness of early Modern painters towards a new form of self-reflexive conceptual art. This shift is essentially the transition into post-modernism, as it has become generally associated with conceptual art. Duchamp's "Fountain" of 1917 was the debut of this type of meta-art which caused an entire reevaluation of the fundamental roles of artistic process and authorship. Suddenly, the finished artwork became secondary to the original idea or concept.

Joseph Kosuth "One and Three Chairs" 1965. London. Sit & Think on this one for a while.

Above, Joseph Kosuth critiques this phenomenon by focusing his concept on the actual representation of the idea. Here the viewer ponders the importance of each of Kosuth's four iterations of the chair; the actual idea of the chair set on par with the visual representations instead of over them.

These types of short quips corresponded with the development of Minimalism, the movement responsible for eradicating any necessity of thoughtful aesthetic composition in art. Artists such as Donald Judd and Robert Morris found success with works which were nothing more than a metal box, or plate, in space. Though much can be (and has been) said about the interesting play on space and specified objects in the works of minimalists artists, the movement caused a trend of art so stripped-down that it was generally uninteresting to folks. John Baldessari's work "I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art" references this.

John Baldessari "I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art" 1971. New York, NY ● Cute.

The future of art..
Taking after the likes of Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud, the Stuckists (est. 1999), a well-organized group formally responding to conceptual art, push for a return to figurative painting as a mode for representing modern ideas. Their manifesto Remodernism outlines the foremost failures of current works (loftiness, sarcasm), and make a call for a new spirituality and return to beauty & authenticity in art. Stuckists are known for dressing in clown suits and protesting the Turner Prize, a large cash sum usually given to the driest conceptual artists.

Although conceptual art is still the dominant school of thought today its nature and media are changing. It was traditionally a multimedia movement; found objects, text pieces, performance, etc, but today media such as video games, Real-Time 3D Multi-User Virtual Environment (
RT3D MUVE) and especially the internet have emerged to the forefront and we find ourselves undergoing another drastic transition of social structures (a Digital Revolution).

Like newspaper or television before them, these media have a way of incorporating other forms of media as content, such as photos, illustration, text, and eventually video, sound & interactivity. This McLuhan inspired idea is known as Post-convergence, and gives us a glimpse into the future of how art might look. The Cremaster Cycle (1994-2002) by Matthew Barney, which includes five feature-length films as well as sculptures, drawings, photographs, and artists books, exemplifies post-convergent tendencies in artmaking.

We may expect future artwork to remain entrenched in much of postmodernism's looks and feels, as 60's style Conceptualism (with its various intersections with Pop and Abstract Expressionism) continues to define the global trajectory of Western art, though as new technologies become available contemporary artwork begins to reflect the capabilities of new media. Conventional examples such as the CGI in Avatar or Transformers, and the sound engineering of Skrillex demonstrate the way that digital technologies become integral to the artwork and has a tendency to rely upon effects that are shinier and in higher definition than anything in reality. This relates to the notion of hypermodernism, or a deepening or intensification of modernity as information and media infinitely converge, and as science and technology push our species towards singularity.

Of course we are left only to speculate on how art will look in the future until these next few decades have passed. However I'm sure there will be plenty of robots.

EDIT: If you're interested in reading more, here is the article I would have written if I were a tenured professor.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Imaging the City Final: HDRamas

These images were deceivingly easy to make, thanks to the Automate feature in Photoshop CS5. Just shoot a couple exposures of each scene on a sturdy tripod, Merge to HDR Pro, then photomerge. Voila!

The wonderful thing about HDR photography is the ability to emphasize more expressive colors and forms. The digital artist is allowed to depict the scene as he or she experienced it by exaggerating the sharpness of certain portions of the image, for instance. The outcome is nice.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Team Gallery!

Is Conceptualism back in vogue? Last April I looked at the works of Stefan Bruggemann and how his text-based art works upset many pretenses of what art ought to mean, first in that it is a meaningful work of art itself. Revisiting him in a Google search, I stumbled across this pretty stunning collaboration he did with Pierre Bismuth:

Here Bismuth's spray painted comment in a way completes Bruggemann's work, responding in the only way one can to such a straightforward statement, with another extremely cut-and-dry statement. But besides being a nihilistic art party, this work is like an old Donald Judd that offers no explanation other than its existence in [gallery] space, but with a fresh self-consciousness, more sincere than sarcastic.

Mr. Bismuth enjoys collaborations. His association with other artists of the Team Gallery, such as Ryan McGinley and David Ratcliff creates a thread whose common characteristic is conceptual art. Go to to check out these up-and-coming type artists.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rude Brood Logo

Draft #1: Based on a prelimenary drawing, which was sketched element by element, traced with pen, scanned, touched up in photoshop, then live traced in illustrator for quick vectorization.

Draft 2: Uses found elements for inspiration; outlined, scanned, then traced with the brush tool for a vectorization with a hand-drawn feel.

Final Draft: Deleted 1,000+ bezier points from the brush tool version to give a bolder, cleaner look. It might have been faster to use the pen tool originally, but this technique allows the vectors to retain a subtle organic quality.

Rude Brood is a collective of 16 BFA candidates at the University of Oregon in Portland, White Stag Building.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fresh Art: Allison Shulnik, anonymous

Allison Shulnik

Her works are of a clear aether, newly synthesized and bright-- but recall a mystery and deviance present in the art of Dubuffet. The effect: interplays of primal vitality and crumbling ephemerality of the body and mind.

Anonymous [Ego Leonard?]

Some jokester leaves an 8 foot tall lego man on the beach. Is this mixture of PR stunt, performance, and public installation a legitimate form of art? I honestly don't know you all must tell me

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pablo Picasso, meet Kenojuak Ashevak

Kenojuak Ashevak is an Inuit artist who produces prints with all the ethereal beauty of the Baffin Island landscape she grew up on. Her artwork are studies in the transformation of simple forms into traditional iconography. The spirit forms of various creatures are depicted in an elegant centralized composition, suggesting autonomy as well as the links to their mythological significance.

Ravens Entwined, lithograph

Birds from the Sea, stencil, 1960

and my personal favorite; Arrival of the Sun, stonecut, 1962

Inuit and Native American art in general has not traditionally been considered important to the Western World's conception of what art ought to look like, but as the world becomes increasingly globalized, we begin to look back to time-tested cultures for more natural solutions to the problems of representation and of life. Kenojuak's prints are successful at expressing that which is most urgent and primitive. They strive for order and meaning, without complication, as we do in life as well as image-making. See more of her work here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Imaging the City II

PORTLAND, Many hundreds of people marched through the streets of downtown Portland today in protest of what they call "corporate greed." It is linked to the growing Occupy Wall Street movement that began last month in NYC, and has inspired similar movements in many cities across the united states. Citizens marched down second ave from Chapman Square where they have set up long-term "infrastructure," and over the Broadway bridge, halting traffic on many of Portland's main streets. The demonstrations here in Portland have remained peaceful.

The other sign of this kid's sign said "Horatio Alger is Dead."


"Viva La Evolution"

This guy had a lovable goofy smile.

These folks had an amp and a generator that they were towing in a cart. It was hooked up to a microphone which really helped give the chants some extra "uumph"

Fellow GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich told CBS that he agrees with Cain that the protests are "a natural product of Obama's class warfare. ... We have had a strain of hostility to free enterprise. And frankly a strain of hostility to classic America starting in our academic institutions and spreading across this country. And I regard the Wall Street protest as a natural outcome of a bad education system, teaching them really dumb ideas." But what Mr. Newb Biggrinch is forgetting is the idea that unregulated free enterprise creates vast economic disparity is only "dumb" if you're profiting from it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Climbing in your Windows: Snatching your Culture Up

Chatting with my Music Theory grad student brother-extraordinaire recently I learned of the developing field known as Music Cognition. "What's that?" I immediately got excited. He explained its a mix of hard cognitive psychology, aesthetics, philosophy, and sociology used to figure out how we understand music. I thought of a dozen lab-coat clad academics gathered around some dude with headphones on. Creepy.

So many parallels between music and art, I thought. So, why not Art Cognition, or Media Cognition? (it does exist in scattered texts). If used for the forces of evil, much money could be made. Today's communicators must be psychologists as well as designers.

So who succeeds in an age where novel content is outshadowed by even more novel media? YouTube's most popular video of 2010; The "Auto-Tune the News" Bed Intruder Song exemplifies a familiar phenomenalism, but with viral videos taking the place of radio tunes or blockbuster movies. This well produced hip-hop mash up caught us off guard with its shockingly relevant mix of music and media. It elicits no response from the self-centered viewer, but is interactive in that it inspires them to afterwards view and create other remixes.

But if it wasn't the Gregory Brother's skill with software then it was their specific choice of each elements; a cliche snippet of network news, the auto-tuned voice of an urban black figure, a shiny pop song. It's classic yet avant-garde, a collision of the old and new, familiar yet fresh, safe yet edgy. A similar aesthetic is present in Dub-step, where the DJ/musician combines left-over 90's hip hop, drum n' bass, and reggae tropes with digitally produced sounds that early electronic artists only dreamed of.

But these cultural phenomenon have little to do with furthering art unless using the former to achieve the latter. Both will continue to change in appearance according to the spirit of the times, but for now the Gregory brothers seem to have the winning formula.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Zombies are Real: Post-Apocalyptia in Pop Film

In the words of the wise [guy] Jason Windsor who created the crappy early 2000's flash meme End of Ze World; "Ruling out the ice caps melting [sorta like Day After Tomorrow], meteors becoming crashed into us [definitely like Armageddon], the sun exploding and the ozone layer leaving us, we're basically going to blow ourselves up." Okay.

It is said that every generation believes that they are the last. "The world is going to Hell in a hand basket." But modern history is especially saturated with doom, during which a pair of World Wars brought to us such manifestations of the macabre as tanks, bombers, gas, and eventually, the nuke.

Ever since, the imaginations of authors and filmmakers have come to rest upon the Apocalypse. What will it be like in reality? What will it be like in the darkest nightmare? And how can some combination of the two be used to expose the destructive nature of humans and perhaps in some way prevent a ghastly conclusion to all of humanity.

Indeed, in apocalypse-narratives, the viewer is almost always placed (for dramatic effect) in the situation of an individual or small group as they struggle to survive the end of the world, or the immediate aftermath of whatever climactic event that aspired.

But more than gimmicky effects, this style of story-making appeals to us because we are cast into the standpoint of the main characters, and are cast into the decision making process of someone who disregards all conventions of a now non-existent society and performs various illegal and destructive acts in the name of self-preservation, such as stealing cars, or weapons, and in the case of zombie films; using them against people.

George Romero's 1968 film Night of the Living Dead was so successful in examining some of these themes, that it is rightfully credited with popularizing the phenomenon that would come to be known as zombie film. Night of the Living Dead begins with a young woman, Barbara, who acts as the viewer's surrogate throughout the first part of the movie, but once Barbara becomes incapacitated by fear and insanity so caused by her new apocalyptic reality, the viewer quickly transitions into the thought processes and actions of Ben, a young black worker, as he snaps into action boarding up the farmhouse they've both taken refuge in. Romero here draws a clear duality of reactions to the impending doom; one of denial and ultimate defeat versus a voracious will to fight and to keep alive. He continues to juxtapose the two characters throughout the film, emphasizing Barbara's uselessness and Ben's composure and usefulness, forcing the viewer to ponder his or her own natural reaction to a disaster of similar proportions.

The middle-aged father character, Harry, embodies yet a third paradigm of a human reacting on an animalistic level to the stresses of an apocalyptic environment. Generally unlikable, Harry is more proactive than Barbara, but his efforts are mostly counterproductive and clearly motivated by a cowardice that sharply contrasts Ben's altruism. His stubborn conservatism is demonstrated through his desperate attempts to convince the rest of the group to join him in the basement stronghold over which he feels he has control, and can be seen as a reference to the underlying ignorant fear and discrimination that defines the politics of state and national borders and home spaces.

The final and most compelling moment of the film occurs after each character is lost, one by one, to the "ghouls." Ben, the last remaining survivor, emerges from the basement to a quiet, zombie-free atmosphere, only to be gunned down immediately by an armed posse who mistook him for a ghoul. This abrupt ending to the film leaves the viewer in shock, numbed by the disregard for human life displayed by the zombie hunters, who like soldiers in a "hostile zone" show no hesitation to kill when they themselves perceive a threat to their own lives.


Most subsequent zombie and other post-apocalyptic narratives examine the same basic theme in various ways, but the common thread is the hand-delivered fantasy of operating outside the common laws and norms of refined society in a survival situation, including cannibalism. Some very successful texts in this area include most subsequent Romero flicks, 28 Days Later, AMC's Walking Dead, and a score of related non-zombie films like Mad Max, Children of Men, and The Road.

One doesn't need to be an expert in environmental science to understand that the human population has exceeded what our environment can provide and that an impending dieoff is indeed a reality. In a world where major social and environmental issues are innumerable, and their solutions seem as distantly hopeless and densely intertwined as the problems themselves, could our unconscious minds be seriously preparing for the real post-apocalypse? Does this explain the pop-realism imbued within these films and their subsequent achievements in the mainstream? Is Hollywood subtly trying to tell us not to go off eating each other when the shit really does hit the fan? I'm not sure, but what I can say is BRRAAAAIIINNS!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Snapshots from Sasquatch '11

Sasquatch celebrated its symbolic 10th anniversary this year, and as the decade turns over Adam Zacks flaunts his curatorial prowess by booking dozens of today's top alternative musical acts. The appearance of such groups as Against Me!, Foo Fighters, Bassnectar, and Bright Eyes represents a wide variation of genres. A division between the traditional guitar rock and single DJ electronic music was prominent, but the fragmentation of modern music did not prevent the folks at Sasquatch from bringing together the most talented practicing artist-musicians for 4 days of the rockin'est concert of all time.

My first roomate and trusty concert-going comrade Jeff and I hit up the Roseland on Thursday night to see Neon Indian and Sleigh Bells. I had never been there before, and although I was a bit skeptical of the guitarist hyping the crowd with Iron Man, the intense moshing that continued throughout was quite splendid.

Friday morning/afternoon we drove up through the Columbia River gorge then up through the Yakima Valley via WA-97/I-90 towards Wenatchee. This is a seriously scenic drive.

Friday night we saw Dave Greul and the Food Fighters. Seeing such a staple grungy alt-rock band was a special experience that lots of people enjoyed.

Saturday morning we woke up and wandered groggily over to the (shuttle) and saw Wavves and Radio Department on the main stage. Radio Dept's band members and sound are reminiscent of the best of Broken Social Scene, and contrasted the most pit of youngster punks at the Wavves that quickly turned into a pointless pushing match.

We headed over to the Yeti stage afterwards to check out Wye Oak who does well the awesome folk-rock sound that underlies the aesthetics of many of the younger rock groups playing the festival this year.

I met Jesse Rogers, a writer for, at the Worf Parade show who told me to check out this band, the Thermals. They have a cool new-punk style that puts the required energy into updating the well-loved genre.

We had to peace because the Thermals played at the same time as Washed Out (who brought the band and knocked us over with ten foot high chillwaves). We missed Iron and Wine but got good spots for Bright Eyes which was awesome because their performance was spectacular. He was less drunkenly than when I saw him at the Concord Center for the Performing Arts in '05, which was much appreciated since every song, including new material, was crisp and delicious, and really tapped into the pop-emotionalism that makes Bright Eyes' music so successful.

Snapshot from secret seating area with secret trashcan tripod.

Death Cab played splendidly and really tempted me to go out and pick up all the new releases I haven't kept track of. You can see Ben Gibbard rocking out in this pic, but all the rest are blurry--like my memory of their insane performance at S'quatch '08.

Typhoon, one of the best known bands from the Tender Loving Empire record label, opened Sunday morning on the Bigfoot stage. The twelve-piece set up was pretty impressive. Complete with quasi-homeless looking percussionist shown above.

Typhoon is one of the most exciting new indie bands coming out of Portland. Their large ensemble with lengthy, sweeping compositions is pleasing to post-rock fans, while their pop vocals and lyrical themes cater to a more general audience.

Das Racist was pretty outrageous live, half hour late, belligerent, but the beats were good and the rapping was entertaining.. as always. Their recorded work is more expressive of their talents.

They were rapping to me, and only to me.

Boogied over to the mainstage to see Wayne, Steve, sunglasses-bassist guy and the remaining Flaming Lip I did not recognize. They played soft bulletin all the way through, which was totally righteous as it is one of their finest most comprehensive (and certainly well-loved) albums.

Their shows are beyond the hook.

This is an image of Isaac Brock illuminating the world with beautiful lo-fi music.

A bright new group named "the Young Evils" kicked off Monday.

After some minor bands and a visit to the comedy tent, I couldn't have been ready for the face melting that Guided By Voices delivered. Chromeo fans cleared out from the mainstage area, leaving behind a committed group of experienced indie rockers. The assembly was small, but certainly had the highest crowd-surfing and mosh-dancing per audience member ratio of any show that weekend.

Epic cloudery

The lead singer of Best Coast is a real comedian, and a cutie! (Whatever, I got a crush.) I shouldn't let that overshadow the fact that they had one of the most satisfying lo-fi indie rock sounds of all the new performers (that I caught) this year.

My distant view of Decemberists fans.

The long awaited Wilco played THE headlining spot on Monday night, tearing up every classic and new track with exceptional clarity and energy. They played the catchiest riffs the loudest and made sure to deliver ample guitar and drum solos, which may seem like cheating but damn what could really make a rock concert better?