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9 matchs for mumford:
mspaint-ified steve mumford
Hadn't made it to Chelsea in a while and returned to find a universe of painting...and pain. The former I attribute to the hordes of well-heeled collectorbots descending on New York for the fairs and looking for "tangible product" (I know this is a frequent jab but there has to be someone we can make fun of). The latter I ascribe to our mass collective psychic residue of guilt over tearing another country to shreds with an elective, unprovoked war, combined with self-expressive narcissism as usual (the crucified Christ c'est moi).
Thus Giles Lyon channeling Steve Mumford's Baghdad Diary by way of Carroll Dunham (and Goya) at Mixed Greens; Michal Rovnar's punishing digital video at Pace recalling a fractal distillation of the oil field fires in Werner Herzog's Lessons of Darkness; bleeding bullet holes in Lucky DeBellevue's chenielle stem sculptures; Bonnie Collura's morphed figures that have grown increasingly gory and angst-ridden since she got raised to Olympian heights and then squashed like a bug by the Times (seriously, they were good, but might have done without the St. Sebastian arrows); Trenton Doyle Hancock's bone-through-the-wrist stigmata bleeding Pepto-Bismol; and that was just on two blocks.
Big shout-out to Jeff Elrod at Fredericks Freiser: punchy but elegant paintings; excellent addition of spray paint and grey check backgrounds a la Photoshop. Not Matisse with a Mac (as an old press release had it), so much as Cy Twombly. And kidding aside, that Trenton Doyle Hancock show at James Cohan (image above) is superb: a splattery gutfest with pitch-perfect balance of outsider-y collage elements and geometric tangles of bones and viscera. He takes pages from the Christian Schumann playbook, wads them up, spits on them, and glues them back on the canvas in a thousand pissed-off fragments. (Speaking metaphorically here.)
Drawing by Roy Stanfield, from a series based on random picks from Google Images. I think that's the way to go with this otherwise obsolescent skill called "drawing," so much slobbered over by art buyers. Thanks to all those search engine bots we're drowning in each other's image-effluent. Hand-rendering these pictures "personalizes" the sludge-flow while inexorably adding to it. Art is not an act of resistance but participation in a vast system of fascination and voyeurism. Signed, Baudrillard Junior. (Having said all that, I like this drawing--Steve Mumford should look and learn to see how the "courtroom style" can be used effectively.)
Announcing the "Thomas Gradgrind Award"
This week's Gradgrind goes to Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times, for the last paragraph of his "Greater New York 2005" review:
It's good, in this context, to find a selection of Steve Mumford's painted dispatches from Iraq, plainspoken journalistic pictures of a throwback kind. They announce a mature artist looking closely at what is urgently unfolding around him. Their traditional sobriety stands out in a show that, like the burbling young art world now, seems gladly co-opted and almost too able to please.Top hole, Mr. Kimmelman. Top hole. Our lady Queen Victoria would be most impressed, Indeed, one wishes to see young artists be mature and perspicacious in their craft and not susceptible to influences of the fleeting and trivial sort. And all the better if the illustration in question is in the illustrious service of the Empire, what ho? (Tip of the top hat to bill for finding this most stout and exemplary paragraph.)
Still Emerging After All These Years
With MOMA/PS1's "Greater New York, the Return" we are once again faced with that slippery concept of when an artist "emerges," which leads to oddities such as Scott Grodesky emerging twice in the pages in Artforum, in 1992 and then 12 years later. Why are we faced with this issue? Because "emergence since 2000" and "working in the New York area" are the only stated themes for the show. Important, career launching exhibitions used to have core ideas, reflected in titles such as "Primary Structures," Douglas Crimp's "Pictures," and "The Intrasubjectives"--OK, the latter isn't exactly on anyone's lips but the show included the major AbEx'ers. But since all the powerhouse academics have fled the artworld after using it as a seedbed for pet sociological theories in the '80s and '90s and ultimately killing the soil, and quirky individualism at the curatorial level isn't tolerated in the US anymore for a variety of political reasons, what we get are full time functionaries working in teams, and the only thing they can all agree on is geography and the date.
Yet arguably they botched even the latter, since one could make a strong case that all of the following GNY2005 artists emerged in the '90s and not the 2000-2005 period: Michelle Segre (Elizabeth Koury project room in '93 and Roberta Smith-reviewed two-person show at Lauren Wittels in '96), Randy Wray (solo at Kagan Martos in '96), Meredith Danluck (Andrew Kreps '97), Jason Fox (Feature '99 and group shows starting in '90), Robert Melee (Kreps '98, White Columns White Room '95), Wade Guyton (Kreps project room '99--yes, this one's a squeaker). Corey McCorkle, Steve Mumford, and Sue de Beer were also showing quite a bit in the late '90s. Whether or not the artists had solos or project rooms, all of the above were in group shows and many were written about in not very obscure publications such as Artforum and the New York Times. The upshot of all this isn't that it's unfair for curators to stretch an artist's period of emergence (and I know and/or have written about many of these artists and am happy they're still emerging) but that emergence as a criterion for a major museum exhibit is stupid and should be retired.
1965 watercolors by Gene Klebe. Above: Clean-Up After Marble Mountain Battle; below: Operation Market Time.
Art worlders, including many in the blogosphere, continue to give salutatory high-fives each time a new series of drawings appears by Steve Mumford, an artist who has been unironically embedded with the troops in Iraq. Carol Kino did it in the New York Times as well, this week. This page has complained (here and later here) that Mumford's a rather ham fisted draftsman and absolutely on the wrong side of the war issue. Bush has a snit because Saddam tried to kill his Daddy, the neocons seek a permanent American "footprint" in the mideast, thousands upon thousands needlessly die from American bombing and the subsequent chaos, and there's Mumford sanitizing the mess. The art world marched to stop this horror but out of friendship (or simple bewilderment) enables Mumford to do his thing.
Commenter Mr. Potts likes Mumford's work, and steers us toward this Dept. of the Navy page of sketches and paintings from the Vietnam era. (The pictures in this post come from there.) These are indeed Mumford's forerunners: official, clunky court room style art that supports the war effort--except the two images here, by Gene Klebe, actually have more punch and clarity than Mumford's washy drawings. But the art world wouldn't fete the artists on the Navy's site and give them shows at White Columns. They'd be seen as "mere illustrators" who wouldn't get past the velvet rope.
In the Times article, Mumford says he went to Iraq convinced it was a mistake (which you would never know from his bland sketches) but now having contact with ordinary Iraqis and seeing their joy at the ending of the horrible Saddam years has him "on the fence." He's more than that, as his writings clearly show--Karl Rove could have ghostwritten the diaries. Reading them gives you a good sense of the mental contortions our troops have to go through to convince themselves they're on the side of the angels. But the unreconstructed colonial, who thinks it's his right to document and help these sweet, misguided people, often shows his face. The latest diary veers between the narcissistic and the maudlin, and sometimes you get the feeling that Mumford is over there as a thrill seeker, playing Army in a country he has no ultimate stake in. Still weighing whether to post excerpts--they make him sound pretty bad, and he's really just politically naive.
Guy Colwell is a Bay Area underground comix artist turned mural painter who recently went back to explicit political work, to disastrous effect. As described in this Steve Gillliard post (and original story), Colwell tackled the Abu Ghraib prison torture story and his painting was so effective it got his art dealer literally punched in the face, and spat on, by angry yahoos. The gallery--in the bohemian North Beach area of San Francisco, of all places--was also vandalized, and the dealer closed her business yesterday. The painting is explicit, illustrational agitprop in the Sue Coe tradition, depicting subhuman GIs with American flag patches on their uniforms, screaming in rage at a row of naked figures, hooded, wired up and standing on buckets. All the emotions are right up on the surface, and this is a time when emotions matter.
Colwell has taken the Abu Ghraib photos, which were already starting to lose some shock value through endless media repetition, and dared to nationalize them by making ugly, monstrous caricatures out of "the troops." We aren't supposed to regard our soldiers as bad or suspect, even though the war was launched for fraudulent reasons and no one knew how the "liberated" Iraqis were being treated. (For the record, I support the troops but wish they could be put to work by the Pentagon protecting us from our real enemies.) The people who assaulted Colwell's dealer are still in whipped up "war mode"--which is hard to come down from after all the Fox News and New York Times/Judith Miller propaganda. The dark side of America is an ugly beast and with blood in the air, it's not so easy to calm. When the Japanese attack you, you put all your energy into attacking the Japanese; when an "invisible network of terror cells" attacks you, it's hard to know where the energy's supposed to go. So you hit "sitting duck" countries. And art dealers.
Fortunately there's some counter-energy in the form of concerned artists who fear fascism at home more than randomly-striking terrorists. In this sense Guy Colwell is a sort of anti-Mumford, referring here to Steve Mumford's rapidly-dating "Parisian flaneur in Iraq" sketchbook drawings of American soldiers at work and rest in an exotic foreign land. Those bland, tastefully smeared, courtroom style drawings, purporting to be some kind of art vérité, managed to hide the hatefulness and essential wrongness of the US invasion of a country that never threatened us except with words--a classic colonial adventure fused with misdirected payback. Mumford even got interviewed by CNN, the official voice and supporter of the war. Colwell's art is simplistic, not tasteful in the least, but it cuts right to the subjugating core of the BushCo enterprise. Not that a punch in the face validates art or is anything other than repugnant, but no one will ever be punched over Mumford's drawings.
[UPDATE: Capobianco gallery's "Guy Colwell page," which had a clearer view of the Abu Ghraib painting, was removed a few hours after I posted this (that's the gallery where the dealer was attacked). Its website is now also closed, but has a phone number to view a video of the gallery closing memorial.]
Steve Mumford wrote a nice review of an Albert Oehlen show a few years back for an art mag called Review. Quite unlike Oehlen's multilayered, idiosyncratic work, the paintings Mumford was exhibiting at the time--thickly-brushed renderings of classic American automobiles--were blandly illustrational. The drawings he's sending back from Iraq, part of his Baghdad Journal on artnet, continue the tradition: they are as lifeless as courtroom sketches. A bunch of these sepia-toned watercolors are on exhibit at Postmasters right now, and based on what's been shown on artnet, one could be forgiven for not making the hike to Chelsea. Being able to draw is cool but art isn't just observation. At some point anger or joy or sorrow--or an idea--should travel from your insides to your arm to the page. Mumford's losing energy somewhere along this drive train. Or maybe it's not there to begin with. Anyway, those pictures are dead, people. I'll stick to reports from Robert Fisk and photos from the foreign press--I don't need to see the Art Students' League turning the slaughterhouse into tastefully smeared contour studies.