High on the Richter Scale

Gerhardt at Work
A still from the movie, Gerhardt Richter Painting, by Corinna Belz, A Kino Lorber Release (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

This year, as painter Gerhardt Richter turns 80, we will be treated to a film that allows us to watch the man at work, frustrating the canvas and his voyeurs. On March 14 Kino Lorber will release Corinna Belz’s Gerhardt Richter Painting to the public.

The Filmmaker, Corinna Belz

A student of philosophy, art history, and media sciences, Corinna Belz is no slouch when it comes to fluffing the brand with some very fine artspeak:

“It became clear to me that a film about a painter must focus on painting. It was the actual work in the artist’s studio that interested me most: the authentic and immediate process of putting paint to canvas, and the instruments, gestures, and movements involved, emotionally as well as physically.”

And Kino Lorber’s official GRP site is full of the hot winds of tribute and mysticism to come:

“From our fly-on-the-wall perspective, we watch the 79-year-old create a series of large-scale abstract canvasses, using fat brushes and a massive squeegee to apply (and then scrape off) layer after layer of brightly colored paint. This mesmerizing footage, of a highly charged process of creation and destruction, turns Belz’s portrait of an artist into a work of art itself.”

But despite the hagiographic PR, and the posty- post- postPOST  bandwagon which is sure to follow, I find this film on my absolutely-must-see list.

I’ve always loved Richter for his virtuosity. Before he was making vast gooey abstracts, he went through many techniques (some simultaneously developing), all of them deeply experimental and all of them well executed.

Google Gerhardt Richter to see a vast array of well executed visual experiments.

From his ghostly grey early photographic works, to his super real portraits, to his mixed media installations, and finally to his varied experiments with abstraction, he has shown a level of skill and imagination, and even wit, that is rare and, I must say, beautiful.

That said…

I wonder, though, at the recent glut of what I call ‘richterisms’ in the abstract art arena: are these new paintings that use dragging and blotting and other forms of paint distress simply about trying to find a way to ground abstract art in method again?

I hope not: because that can’t be done by implementing a bag of tricks. And, face it, composition, color, and texture aren’t conceptual any more so most abstract painting will just come off as decorative (and I mean that in the worst way).

Delish as these super frosted cakes can be, they often come off as clones and dramatic accidents.

Best of the Richterites: Jerry Saltz Macs on Jackie Saccoccio;s Lush Mica at the Eleven Rivington Booth at the Armory Show. The paintins is Portrait(Hermetic), 2012 oil and mica on linen. Photo courtesy of Jackie Saccoccio.
Best of the Richterites: Visiting Eleven Rivington's booth at the Armory Show, Jerry Saltz macs on Jackie Saccoccio's lush mica. Portrait(Hermetic), 2012 oil and mica on linen. This photo courtesy of Jackie Saccoccio.

But don’t take this as an out and out judgement on all paintings that use these techniques: some, like Jackie Saccoccio, have added their own virtuosity with luminouse clouds of color and more deliberate compostion.

Let me put it this way, any artists who are inspired by Richter should explore virtuosity: and that means, not simply mastering Richter’s techniques, but finding and mastering your own.

Fun Fun Friday

Olek: UNorthodox

“I do not expect to be a mother but I do expect to die alone” 27th January – 23rd March 2012

Congrats to Olek for inadvertently offending readers of Haolam Hacharedi,  an orthodox Jewish magazine which pulled issues containing a review of the artist’s latest coup off stands. Apparently when they decided to review Olek’s show at Tony’s Gallery in London, they were unprepared for the photographic contents of Olek’s texty wall weavings which contain intimate messages from the artist’s own mailbox, many of them of a sexual nature.

Isn’t that all men care about? Text, I mean.

Emergency measures were taken as head of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations in London, Rabbi Padwa, knocked out a dictum forbidding sale of the issue.

Read on JR: Orthodox magazine in porn shock
By Nathalie Rothschild, February 16, 2012


Art Trends:


Postmodern denial of authorship
Burying big things
Text (see above)
Juicy Colors and Subjects
Critic Art
Ugly Ass Biomorphic Stuff
Arrested Developement Nyah-Nyah Art


Solidly in the WTF Category

The Press Release says: “THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART PRESENTS THE FIRST LIVE RETROSPECTIVE OF THE ELECTRONIC MUSIC PIONEERS KRAFTWERK” and promises “Entire Repertoire of Eight Conceptual Albums Performed Live Over Eight Consecutive Evenings from April 10 to 17.”

The evening will be comprised of the albums performed in chronological order along with “elaborate staging” “3D images” and (shiver) “new improvisations.”

In case you’re a nostalgic baby boomer or a young technophile:
Tickets are $25.00 and will go on sale to the public on Wednesday, February 22, at 12:00 p.m., only at MoMAKraftwerkTickets.showclix.com. Space is limited. There is a two-ticket limit per person for the series, with each individual order limited to one transaction. Tickets will be distributed exclusively via will call, with photo ID required.

OPINION: Conflicts of Interest Add Color & Texture

K Haring's Andy Mouse:

On Faso’s Brushbuzz, a kind of Reddit for the art market, I discovered a seedling of bothersome art theory: one bsherwrin contemplates whether or not “ad sales play a role in shaping art history in the sense that art publications– both online and in print — tend to end up reviewing exhibits at galleries that also happen to pay for ads in the publication?” Leaping from the question to an assumed ethical issue, the  post asks us to discuss the question:  “Should art magazines– and art blogs that feature an art-focused ad network for that matter– avoid a conflict of interest by not reviewing exhibits at galleries that also purchase ad space in the publication?”

Now people, we LIVE in a well-documented network of “conflicts of interest.” Conflicts of interest are de rigeur in every field. And conflicts of interest have been a part of the playing field in the arts for decades now, and are more and more the norm.

We have artists who are curators, advisors, arts writers and bloggers (just check out the bios on Facebook!). We have museums who have collectors who are artists who are guest curators who place their own works in the show. We have curators and art consultants who collect art themselves (a quickie browse through Linked In should show many of these). We have museum directors who are ex-gallery owners who have a vested art historical interest in the artists they supported in their earlier career. Hell, we’ve even had large corporations put up a pop-up gallery on public property in order to display artists who’s work echoed and celebrated the company’s designs — artwork that the company then had contracted to hold first rights to purchase.

Reading an article about a show at a museum? Well, I suggest grain of salt, my friends. No one’s even trying to be “objective” any more and, honestly, it’s time to move on.

OPINION: What’s The Matter With Kansas?

Some say, Publicly Funded Arts Programs

by guest blogger, David Kaplan

After the bitter brinksmanship that ended with the much-reviled increase in the debt ceiling, talking about the topic of public funding for the arts seems like an act of futile indulgence. The nation is facing potential cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and you want to talk about government support for miniscule cultural centers in fly-over country?

Next topic!

I hear you. But de-funding  the arts can have a chain of deleterious implications for the personal livelihoods of creative individuals and the economic viability of towns and regions across the country. And it will pit worried cultural institutions — those that nourish interest in the arts in places that can’t afford to put on blockbuster attractions like Alexander McQueen’s show at the Met — against each other for increasingly scarce private funding.

The NYT profiles Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s draconian cuts to the state’s arts programs. Or, I should say, the state’s former arts programs: Brownback has completely eliminated Kansas’ public funding of the arts. That’s right, it’s gone from a proposed budget of $689,000 to zero.

As the article notes, Kansas is a rather extreme example of a growing trend: Texas sliced its arts spending by 50 percent, while New Jersey chopped its arts support by 23 percent and Wisconsin issued a 67 percent decrease. Says Bill Ivey, Director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy,

 “The positioning of arts within the public policy arena has always been tenuous. The arts are considered an amenity — nice to fund when you have a bit extra but hard to defend when the going gets tough.”

Money is kind of a dirty word in the arts. That’s part of the reason conservative administrations have been so emboldened about cutting cultural dollars from their budgets. The arts community – including the private marketplace of dealers, galleries and large museums – need to impress upon lawmakers that arts funding promotes education, local commerce and serves as a crucial connection to the regional and national economy by serving as an incubator for new artists and curators.

Every urban area that has dealt with decay has found that if you attract the artists and the galleries with cheap rent and support,  areas that were written off as dead suddenly become vital. And this is true also for rural areas, that can use art as a foundation for creating a sense of community and character that attracts visitors with money to spend, thus lifting up other businesses that may have little connection to culture.

To most people, art is a luxury, the ultimate symbol of elitist extravagance that does nothing to build roads or remove trash. But the people and groups who create it and promote art, know that it provides necessary enrichment that contributes mightily to the lifeblood of American cities, towns and, yes, Gov. Brownback, states.

On Derivative Art and Law

Robert J. Lang's creation takes a munch break at MoMA

In my latest on Hyperallergic,  I gave Robert J. Lang the mic and he gave us a lesson in the history, diversity, and multiple uses of origami! He also comments very briefly on his current lawsuit against artist Sarah Morris whom he accuses of copyright infringement.

I have been following copyright infringement cases for a while now and find it very interesting that people tend to predict case outcomes based on their personal opinions about copyrights, or the individual artists, or the genres of art involved. Rarely do I see discussions about derivative art, copyrights, and lawsuits that actually deal with the legal issues that are involved.

The Lang v Sarah Morris case is a very good example. People who have taken a strong position in favor of derivative art are predicting that Morris cannot lose. Others see this as clear case of infringement and are rooting for the origami artists. But few seem to understand the legal terms they are using to support their emotional arguments. And fewer still seem to understand that the courts don’t care what sort of art you like.

The fact is, it can be pretty hard to predict the outcomes of these cases without a good look at the depositions and the court records. And arguments about the court’s decisions look pretty silly when they misunderstand terms like “transformative” or mistake the word “derivative” for an insult. These legal terms are too often reacted to in a naive and emotional way even by some who set themselves up as experts on the subject.

I will follow up here in a week or so, with an essay about the legal issues involved in these cases, and how they are misunderstood by the public.

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