A couple of museum shows to see:
Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated) at the Guggenheim. Lots of classic Minimalism and such.
Byzantium: Faith & Power at the Met: Lots of classic icons and such.

- alex 3-25-2004 7:19 pm

"In conjunction with Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated): Art from 1951 to the Present, on view at the Guggenheim March 5 - May 19, two fascinating series investigate how the minimalist aesthetic has pervaded aspects of design, fashion, architecture, and film.

Distinguished writers, critics, and art historians shed new light on the meaning of the art-historical term "Minimalism".

Anne Wagner
Tuesday, April 20, 6:30 p.m.

James Meyer
Tuesday, May 4, 6:30 p.m.

Anna Chave
Tuesday, May 11, 6:30 p.m.

This series explores the pervasiveness of a reductive sensibility in contemporary fashion, design, architecture, and film.

An Economy of Forms: The Spirit of Reduction in Contemporary Architecture
Tuesday, May 18, 6:30 p.m.
Panelists: Franco Bertoni, Michael Gabellini, Marianne Stockebrand, and Deyan Sudjic

Tickets $10, $7 for members, students and seniors, unless otherwise noted."

- selma 4-13-2004 12:38 am [add a comment]

Jeeze, Ann Chave was a schoolmate of my older sister, going back to grade school.
We were trying to get a field trip together to the new Dia museum, but that hasn’t quite happened; this show might be a good substitute, and require less organization. Anybody wants to check it (or the Biennial stuff in the Park) out, let me know. Or if you really want to see some good stuff we could look for birds…

- alex 4-13-2004 4:32 am [add a comment]

I quoted Chave at length in this essay.
- tom moody 4-13-2004 4:36 am [add a comment]

we need to work up a tree calender.
- bill 4-13-2004 5:32 am [add a comment]

That's a stellar essay, Tom. The Chave quote is pretty fun: “what [most] disturbs [the public at large] about Minimalist art may be what disturbs them about their own lives and times, as the face it projects is society’s blankest, steeliest face; the impersonal face of technology, industry and commerce; the unyielding face of the father: a face that is usually far more attractively masked.”

- sally mckay 4-13-2004 5:53 am [add a comment]

Cross reference: Chave's essay put me in mind of a Minimalist public sculpture I actually liked, but the public knew better...
- alex 4-13-2004 6:09 am [add a comment]

Serra and Christo have both made art that killed. I think....or is that just an urban legend?
- sally mckay 4-13-2004 6:21 am [add a comment]

  • "As the work grew in size, one worker was killed by one such piece, "Joplin", and another worker lost a leg during a de-installation. The floors of the Castelli SoHo gallery collapsed under the weight of Serra's work during this period."
    (paragraph 14).
    I do love Serra's work. His installation at Gagosian last Summer gave me vertigo - in a good way - and I think his piece up at Storm King is an example of a sculpture working within its environment in a good way.

    - selma 4-13-2004 7:01 pm [add a comment]

  • As someone in a bar once said, "Serra, he's that guy that kills people with statues, right?" He doesn't like to talk about those incidents any more than Christo does, but Serra often "kills" in the sense that stand-up comics use the word; Christo is more likely to suffocate the viewer.
    - alex 4-13-2004 7:23 pm [add a comment]

  • I don't love Serra's work, but I did find myself reluctantly impressed and frightened by the Gagosian show.
    - sally mckay 4-13-2004 7:58 pm [add a comment]

  • Serra makes me want to make all art at less than 10 kilobytes.
    - tom moody 4-13-2004 8:07 pm [add a comment]

  • "He's the enemy! It's big-dick art. A lot of money and heft; portentous, guy, masters-of-the-universe stuff." An artist friend decreed, "You have to say his sculpture killed someone," while another branded Serra "a grandiose and irrelevant asshole." (I should mention that this person saw Serra two years ago wearing a T-shirt that simply said "Fuck You.")."

    - selma 4-13-2004 8:23 pm [add a comment]

  • Our pal Steve DiB encountered Serra when they were both involved in a Matthew Barney movie. Later he ran into him at an opening and tried to start a conversation with “we were in the same movie.” Serra looked at him, said “I know”, and turned away. But they say Mantegna was a real jerk, and 500 years later no one holds it against his art.

    Saltz’s review is pretty good. I recall that our man Jim (without much contemporary art background) was impressed by Switch. It was engaging and surprising in a visceral, perceptual capacity, working on mind and body at a level that precedes interpretation. Some people will always resent too much money, too much size, and work that’s supported by both, but I think Serra is more subtle than he’s often given credit for, although he certainly represents the continuation of a great American tradition of big violent art that goes back to Abstract Expressionism. It’s easy to understand why a generation brought up on special effects movies and cosmic-scale comic books would respond.
    - alex 4-13-2004 9:38 pm [add a comment]

  • Yes, visceral - my vertigo certainly attested to that.
    I am having a hard time understanding what is violent about his work. Is it the physical weight of the work and the seeming deception of gravity? Or that it killed (but that is not the work as a complete installed piece)?
    I would use the word subtle too.
    I am glad you separate the man’s reputation from his art, thank you.

    - selma 4-13-2004 10:08 pm [add a comment]

    • Between violent and violence there seems to be an interesting shift of emphasis between raw physical force and the social dimensions of force. Metaphorizing between the two may be at the root of some people’s animus against Serra.

      I suppose we might say “delicately balanced” about the house of card or prop pieces, which sounds pretty, but the chance of collapse is always there as an implicit violence. Then there are the pieces where he flung molten metal the way Pollock flung paint. Pollock’s exertions produced paintings that perhaps appear less “violent” than those of de Kooning or Kline, but his physical activity seems to have had more influence in the end, and hot metal is genuinely dangerous.

      All of AbEx is founded in the psycho/sexual violence of the Surrealist reading of Freud, perhaps best exemplified by Gorky. His paintings are exquisite and delicate, but also incredibly violent and painful. No surprise he was a suicide, but then so was Rothko, who represents the sublime side of AbEx, reminding us that the concept of the sublime has perhaps taken a road opposite that of violence: forgetting Burke’s notion that it is founded in “terror.”

      Chave is not exactly wrong when she says that Minimalism reveals something “usually far more attractively masked”, but some of us think the unmasking was a service, correcting an imbalance in the equation between individual neurosis and broader cultural pathology, rather than a deployment of controlling power. Certainly Serra’s power was puny in comparison to the coalition (spearheaded by a Federal judge) that destroyed the Tilted Arc. That was an act of violence.
      - alex 4-16-2004 10:24 pm [add a comment]

  • i could care less if he's a jerk. these things could last as long as anything on the planet. that is unless the scrap value would someday outweigh the art value. i thought the last gagosian show very much took a turn towards the feminine (if you know what i mean). some sort of strategy to quell the phallic critique.
    - bill 4-14-2004 2:29 am [add a comment]

  • "these things could last as long as anything on the planet." ... is that a good thing or a bad thing?
    - sally mckay 4-14-2004 2:56 am [add a comment]

  • Rust never sleeps.
    - tom moody 4-14-2004 3:10 am [add a comment]

  • thats the beauty part, its just a thing.

    - bill 4-14-2004 3:21 am [add a comment]

In California one of Chisto's umbrellas was lifted by high winds and crushed someone to death.
- mark 4-13-2004 9:52 am [add a comment]

I don't think it is violence that makes me object to Serra. I like other violent things quite a bit, like hockey and anime. But I do object to the import, the call to respond as if in the presence of something sublime. Rightly or wrongly, I find Serra's sculpture coercive and my reactive response is to say "I don't care about your big rusty thing," rather than to admire it. I have the same response to super feminine movies about people getting cancer and falling in love in Paris and such...sure I have buttons you can push, but just cause you've managed to manipulate my emotions doesn't mean I have to place any particular value on the experience. Because of this reaction, I can sympathise with the philistine detractors of the Tilted Arc. (...and I should mention that I feel strongly that bisecting a formerly functioning public space is antisocial in the extreme. To insist that some kind of enforced fine art experience is more important than where you eat your lunch every day, now that's objectionable. )
- sally mckay 4-19-2004 8:08 am [add a comment]

  • (please ignore me if this is all too naive) - do you feel James Turrell manipulates the viewer? I think I am trying to understand if it is the manipulation or the material that is being objected to.. I understand that the work is imposing (which I don't think is always a bad thing, sometimes I am thankful to be imposed upon), but I also have never felt his work interferes in my living. I choose to step into the spiral. Does size equal import? Is his work cliched maybe? In that one expects how they will feel - if they know his work?
    - selma 4-19-2004 9:54 pm [add a comment]

    • addendum:
      I do get y'all and do understand. I get the masculine, "big dick art", imposing, manipulative, violent. I guess I just don't mind it as an experience. That's all.
      - selma 4-19-2004 10:29 pm [add a comment]

    • fair question. I dont have any trouble w/ serra right up till the end, where he seems to back off from a career trajectory w/ a reflexive reversal that to me seems to pander to unvalid critisim. if it wasnt for the big crater project i dont think turrell would even be on the map. nice big and sublime nature/art experience. but wiring mood rooms for light and sound shows gives me serious doubt that he has anything on the ball at all. just me 2 cents/ like you say one dont mind being waltzed around if you think they know what their doing.

      - bill 4-19-2004 11:20 pm [add a comment]

      • I bring up Turrell because Sally's post made me think more about how I react to Turrell than Serra. while I really like some of his work like crater, I find the "mood rooms" manipulative and actually somewhat insulting (PS1 room excluded, but there is nothing "artificially" manipulating me there).
        - selma 4-19-2004 11:49 pm [add a comment]

I value Serra for his earlier, theoretical work, but have now seen three shows in the big Gagosian aircraft hangar and feel he's just another art world dinosaur crankin' out the product. That's three times I've done the "walk inside the funhouse and worry about being crushed" thing and three times I've looked at the splashy, self-conscious patinas on the rusted Cor-ten steel and said "This looks like AbEx--I thought this guy was supposed to be about minimalist purity." The last show with the curvy "feminine" shapes, as if "answering his critics"--I mean, can it get any more obvious? I dislike Serra more and more as he ages and keeps getting more powerful and the fact that he's a rude, arrogant bastard makes me feel that much better about disliking him. He should think about using the steel for some shelters, or something. (Typed in an angry rush--angry guys make me angry.)

- tom moody 4-19-2004 8:42 am [add a comment]

Responding to Selma's comment further upstream in the thread:

Below is a 1973 Serra piece, Shift, which I think is interesting. It's what got him noticed early on, as opposed to giant slabs of Cor-ten. Like most earthworks, it's probably more interesting in photos than if you encountered these big concrete walls out in the landscape, but it still has a lightness and joy and a sense of discovering or inventing something that's missing from the current work. It's not the big dick thing that bothers me, it's the decay of ideas into empty formalism (and/or funhouse theatricality), combined with the funereal "I hate you and want to crush you" presence. He kept the big walls and lost the theoretical/perceptual reasons for doing them.

Serra - Shift - Text

Serra - Shift

- tom moody 4-19-2004 11:26 pm [add a comment]

  • This is similar to the Storm King work that I like (except is the Storm King piece more violent in that it cuts more deeply -and at a sharper angle - into the hillside?).

    Maybe he is out of land to work on, or to put it another way, maybe he is out of commissions?
    I drove by a home in LI that had a huge Serra steal plate work in the front yard and there was just not enough land to see the work - I felt it needed a lot more land for it to "breathe". This piece Tom seems to have enough room.
    (I meant no offense in y'all y'all. I just wanted to say I was listening and not trying to post annoying questions just for the sake of being annoying - but really out of genuine interest).

    - selma 4-19-2004 11:42 pm [add a comment]

  • Goodness Selma, this is the land of blowhards (mostly nice thoughtful blowhards, but blowhards nonetheless) so quit with the apologizing and just go ahead and say your stuff. I for one am digging your input enormously.

    Your question about Turell is really challenging. I love James Turell, pretty much without reservation. And yes, I think the call for sublime experience carries about the same weight with him as with Serra. I agree with Tom's characterisation of the "funereal I hate you and want to crush you presence" of Serra's big metal things. And I'm personally not so keen on material and objects. I have never seen any Serra outdoors, and have always been in a relationship to the work of feeling slightly threatened, but also stunned by massiveness. I found the maze (I'm not even going to address its supposed femaleness cause that if that was intended in the work its the dumbest idea for a sculpture I've ever heard) quite unnerving, and I sort of enjoyed the personal challenge of overcoming claustrophobic fear to see it to the end. By far the most engaged I've ever felt with his sculpture.
    - sally mckay 4-20-2004 12:11 am [add a comment]

I am a sorrier - and a thanker - it is pretty much inherent at this point but sorry, sorry.
In all seriousness, Turrell's installations can be so slick, so calculated. Walking into one of his installations can make me feel highly uncomfortable in a I'm-being-had kind of way... but I wont say I don't like his work. His work asks me to see something, or feel it, a certain way - his way. Maybe we are boiling it down to a difference of material?
- selma 4-20-2004 12:38 am [add a comment]

"make me feel highly uncomfortable in a I'm-being-had kind of way" It's pretty funny how exactly equal and opposite our reactions are to these two guys. I don't feel coerced by Turrell, I feel invited, and I'm happy to be there. mabye it is all about material, although I find that puzzling and will need to think about it for awhile.
- sally mckay 4-20-2004 12:44 am [add a comment]

well, we could just say it subjectively and experiential.. I would think that might be a pretty high compliment to pay to either Serra or Turrell - and I guess sort of the point.
- selma 4-20-2004 1:50 am [add a comment]

The "feminine" work I was referring to wasn't the mazes, which have been in the last few shows, but rather this work Wake, which has plates welded together so that the pieces are convex on both sides. (The picture doesn't convey the "full" effect these have.) Before, the strips were always flat and/or parallel, never what could be described as bulbous, curvaceous, vessel-like--"gynomorphic," much less anthropomorphic. I may be the only person (actually I think Bill agreed) that thinks Serra was trying to make "female" shapes as opposed to his usual flat strips. But that doesn't stop me from making fun of him.

- tom moody 4-20-2004 1:51 am [add a comment]

Are we back to Alex's super insightful post and the influence of Abstract Expressionism? Are these violent and sexual?
- selma 4-20-2004 3:05 am [add a comment]

Alex says Serra's work is a "continuation of a great American tradition of big violent art that goes back to Abstract Expressionism." I'd say Serra started out opposed to that tradition with the conceptual earth-type work I described above. The size had a purpose--the piece was "drawn" by the landscape (with measured human intervention). This idea of threat or violence seems to have become more apparent when he started putting big steel slabs in the gallery, or public places. Still, it wasn't supposed to be expressionistic--the minimalists were trying to prune that impulse out of art. When I said AbEx just now, I was referring to a late, prettifying faux-expressionism of the splashes of water that make the steel rust just so. That should be anathema to his whole program. Also, reading masculine or feminine qualities into the work is my interpretation, thinking he's giving off emotional vibes that he would deny intellectually.

- tom moody 4-20-2004 3:26 am [add a comment]

For my part, I’ve just never found Serra’s work to be so overbearing as it’s made out. What may appear stark at first glance always manages to draw me in, leading to a surprisingly complex interplay of direct bodily response and interpretive musing. The imposing surfaces always give way, in one way or another, whether it’s the spatial readings in the big black drawings, or the possibility of entry and circumambulation in the large sculptures. Some pieces are more successful than others, but as far as career trajectory goes, I think Serra remains more vital that a lot of artists of his generation (and no few younger ones.) The notion of artists building up to some sort of transcendent “late work” is largely a myth; the opposing truism that each artist really has one idea they do over and over is often nearer the truth. Even the best artists may sometimes appear to be “coasting,” but I’m apt to give a lifetime free pass to anyone who’s made a big contribution; if I’m bored I’ll just stop looking, and I’ve often found that stuff I was fed up with looked better when I came back to it at a later point in my own development. In terms of trying to “answer the critics”, that’s a chancy game, but I suppose artists are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

I rather enjoy Turrell, though I don’t really have a lot of first hand experience (and don’t be fooled, earth art and such really does need to be seen first hand. I’ve been to a big Robert Morris piece near Grand Rapids which in photos looks like a very graphic X on a hillside, but when you walk on it you don’t see it that way at all, and it turns out to create all kinds of cool perceptual effects) except a few SoHo shows and the PS One room. The skyroom is beautiful, but mostly an issue of framing, which remains an important issue in abstract art, but always begs the issue of what is being framed. In the case of the sky, you can’t go wrong, but Turrell causes you to see it in a surprising way, whereas Christo’s nature art is more a matter of decorating something that’s already impressive; instead of new insight he offers an addition that suffers by comparison. His work seems trivial compared to Turrell’s, and yet I’d say it’s genuinely overbearing at the same time (in a way Serra’s is not), which is a truly unpleasant combination.

Serra, I think, is a much more complex and significant artist. In terms of defusing Abstract Expressionism, I don’t think it’s surprising that as we move further away in time what once looked like a break now looks more like a continuation. Something similar has happened in Stella’s work, returning to the gesture and spontaneity he initially suppressed, and I like Serra’s later work more than Stella’s (though again, having done what he did in the 60s, I give him a pass at this point.) As I said, Minimalism and its adjuncts critique AbEx, but they continue its tradition. This leads me to some musing that brings together a couple of other recent posts, regarding “adolescence” in art and comic artist Jack Kirby, along with what I see as a tradition of violence in America.

My feeling is that, given a close reading, the “ugliness” of Minimalism begins to cut the legs out from under the heroic myth of violence that much of AbEx stands on. In part this happens through honesty; the point I was trying to make about Chave’s notion of its straightforward displaying of something normally masked. You might call this “brutal honesty,” but the brutality is of a different order than the genuine violence of physical force, and the point remains that, all protestations aside, art and everyday life remain separate. Whether art influences or reflects our culture is a dialectical conundrum beyond the present discussion, but aside from a few unfortunate accidents, art doesn’t actually hurt people.

I do see our culture as unfortunately preoccupied with violence. One way of looking at adolescence might be that it represents the difficult point at which we must transform a childish love of violence into an adult attitude of responsibility and restraint. We do not criticize the violence of children: their delight in flinging the body about; shouting; stomping on bugs; the adoration of the explosion. Adolescence is when society should temper this temper with a narrative of tragedy. That is to say that it is traditionally the time for initiation, when the child becomes an adult by participating in the mystery of the people’s mythology. The mystery encompasses the union of sex and death, things that children by definition don’t really understand. For children, violence is little more than the exhilaration of being a life force contained in a body, and the natural desire to test its boundaries. They don’t know the risks they take, but for adults violence is always a reference to death. Our mythology must offer not so much an “explanation” of death (this is why I refer to “mystery”) but a way to address it with due regard. Since death remains a sorrow to us, our mythology will of necessity contain a measure of tragedy, though this should be tempered by the hope of continuance via sex and birth. I fear that our culture teaches a narrative in which death itself is a solution, in the form of the death of “the other”. Kill the “bad guys” and everything will be OK. This leads to the triumphal violence of our action movies and our wars. But a true appreciation of the mysteries will initiate us into a dialectic of self and other, in which we find that the two are inseparable, and that killing remains tragic, even in those cases where it is said to be a necessity.

We have given up the stereotyped initiation rites of traditional societies, with some strange results. The fantasy world of adolescence, as exemplified by comics, action films, anime, sci-fi, etc, is one of the major places into which this necessary function has been displaced. The example of Jack Kirby, and the Lethem article cited by Tom, is instructive. I consider Kirby to be a great artist of the 20th century, but the point about his failure as an auteur outside of his collaboration with Stan Lee is quite true. Kirby is all about childish violence, on the level of the body and the level of pure energy; he created the standard comic book representation of energy as such: the flowing blots that Lethem refers to as polka dots. The thing that contained and channeled this energy in a constructive direction was Lee’s narrative. Lee’s style, a bathetic concoction of pseudo-Shakespearean high-mindedness and malt shop coming-of-age clichés, appeared ludicrous to the average adult, but was in fact a mythic teaching mode perfectly suited to the adolescent state of mind. The good guys always won, but they never triumphed; the bad guys came back to life, and everyday problems always brought the heroes back down to earth. The mythic dimension was channeled into the reality of everyday life. As Spiderman learned, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

In the end, adolescence is a passage, not a maintainable state. Our problems stem from refusing to grow up and take responsibility, hence the widespread observation that our culture has become terminally adolescent. In fact, we remain childish, reveling in violence as if it had no consequence. High art used to participate in the kind of mythmaking that forces a passage, but it seems rather removed these days. I think Minimalism contributed something through honesty and a critique of AbEx’s heroic violence; I see Serra as mysteriously existential, rather than heroically imposing. As Bill says, it’s just (an inert) thing. But a thing that causes one to feel and think.

- alex 4-21-2004 1:53 am [add a comment]

"In fact, we remain childish, reveling in violence as if it had no consequence." ... not to sound like one of those creepy genocidal deep ecologists, but maybe violence doesn't have much consequence for us, at least not in the big cultural picture. I suspect mass prolonged adolescence has something to do with the fact that adding to the human population (in rich countries) is fairly meaningless and even arguably destructive. How to maintain a society full of redundant bodies? Keep ourselves focussed on self-expression and the satisfaction of desires. That way we can at least exchange commodities to pass the time. I love the politic in your 5th paragraph.

"I fear that our culture teaches a narrative in which death itself is a solution, in the form of the death of “the other”. Kill the “bad guys” and everything will be OK. This leads to the triumphal violence of our action movies and our wars."
...that's damn interesting.

- sally mckay 4-23-2004 1:08 am [add a comment]

more on Minimalism in NYC, ala NYT April 23.
- selma 4-23-2004 6:18 pm [add a comment]

here's a strange collaboration: Turrell and SOM, Minimalism meets Corporate Architecture?.
- selma 4-23-2004 6:47 pm [add a comment]

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