Segments from Johanna Burton’s lecture at SVA, “Taking Pictures,” presented by the MFA Art Criticism and Writing Department.
Archive for February, 2011
At Saturday night’s Brooklyn Rail Benefit, hosted by SVA at the Visual Arts Gallery, the uniting theme among the brief speeches delivered by Irving Sandler, Chuck Close, and John Elderfield was that it’s a mystery how Phong Bui runs the venerable publication, now more than a decade old. There’s, like, no money in it!
Sure, the writers gladly contribute for free; but what about overhead? And lord knows the new Congress won’t be sending any helpful funding. If anybody deserves to try a little help from his friends, it’s Phong, an accomplished artist, writer, curator, teacher, and publisher. And what friends he has!
Grog, a string instrument ensemble consisting of five artists, including SVA instructor Bill Komoski (on bass), performed throughout the evening…
…providing a music score to the deliberations of one hundred minds wondering if their budgets could accomodate a Lynda Benglis abstract drawing, or a James Castle landscape, or a James Hyde painted print, or Wolf Kahn pastel tropicalia, or a Lisa Yuskavage lithograph (“You have to be a real masochist to make lithographs,” I overheard from a nearby artist), or even a near life-size aquatint nude by Philip Pearlstein.
Alas, ’tis the season to cut spending, so I did not bid on the enchantingly Pythagorean Abby Leigh smoke-on-paper, nor the gonzo Peter Saul colored pencil sideshow. I know I’ll kick myself later, especially for the latter, because that guy is a messiah!
Good looking crowd, right?
It was also a warm, amiable congregation, rich with real-deal artists who have built an intergenerational community as generous as it is brilliant.
P.S. Thanks to artist Jessica Hale for the tip and invitation!
And why should an artist be expected to travel to other continents to see the artwork that defined his or her legacy? The artist needs time to focus on making artwork, not standing in TSA lines at the airport. Finally, the artwork can come to the artist, even if grants, press, and sales do not. The Google Art Project makes this possible.
For the Google Art Project (GAP?), 17 museums in the U.S. and Europe allowed the Google Street View cameras out of the streets and into the galleries, where rickshaw drivers steered the panoptic apparatuses from room to room. The result is to art what the Hubble telescope is to the cosmos.
After advancing through the museum you’ve selected, you can then zoom into the microscopic innerspace of a few dozen great works from each collection. Bonus: Google has photographed with a billion-pixel camera one key artwork selected from each museum. Zoom and zoom and zoom to observe the thread count of George Gisze’s tablecloth. Check for fleas on the background dog of Vittore Carpaccio’s Young Knight in a Landscape. Enjoy art from a proton’s point of view.
Obviously, viewing art on a monitor is no substitute for a visit in the flesh. But it is a good supplement. Then again, if the billion-pixel photo reveals more detail than your eyes could alone, then maybe we shouldn’t underestimate the primacy of a digitally mediated viewing, which presumably takes place in a comfortable living space, free of aimless tourists from Nebraska, unblinded by oppressive glare from overhead lamps, unhindered by guards warning us not to stand too close, and “No photos, please. Sir! No photos, please.” Moreover, the virtual museums charge no admission fees and are open 24 hours.
My art historian barista says of the GAP, “It may contribute to the fetishizing of the museum in the minds of students, as if this inherently decontextualized (or rather recontextualizing) space is the original habitat of the paintings.” Good point, though each entry in the GAP includes, along with the hi res image, a sidebar that includes “Viewing Notes,” “Artwork History,” “Media,” and more. “Media” rounds up useful youtube videos with behind-the-scenes explorations of the artwork and interviews with museum professionals. Together, these cubby holes of information can guide a viewer interested in such issues as provenance. If the artwork was originally commissioned as an altarpiece, that fact would likely come up in the sidebar notes.
What I wonder more deeply is what this means for more recent art history. Presumably, the Google database will expand, adding new objects and institutions on a regular basis. How will conceptual artists fare? Often, it doesn’t matter what the conceptual “object,” or lack thereof, looks like. I don’t mean that you don’t have to see it, I just mean that it doesn’t matter what your photoreceptors and optic nerves process. Por ejemplo, the specifications of Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs (1965) are limited to the exhibition format, but not the chair itself. If that’s actually true, and not just my craftsman-biased projection, then won’t conceptual, dematerialized art get mired in the low-priority folders? Because if it doesn’t matter what it looks like, then zooming in is pointless, and shouldn’t waste the Google resources. Nevertheless, the participating museums are designating which artworks will be featured, so we can leave it to them – and not the Google empire – to manage art history. Right?