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.
Dude! Judging paintings from bad jpgs? I'm impressed but in this case you're wrong, they are worth the long trip to art land. All of our images from Iraq are photos picked from dozens of negatives or jpgs. Mumford has taken the time to bring us just one glimpse of each scene. These somehow are "truer" than any FoxNews cell phone image.
I guess I should clarify that I'm griping about the online artist's diary here, which does consist of jpegs. Thanks for your defense of the actual work. Even if the pieces are beautiful, it seems ill-considered to be doing this kind of aestheticized sketching when the country's in meltdown mode. Goya's Desastres de la Guerra are what's needed here, not the "Parisian flaneur does Iraq." CNN's interest makes me even more uncomfortable because I suspect they're looking for stuff to support Bush's "things aren't so bad in Iraq" meme. Or at the very least something to give fake "balance" to all the bad news. Also, to show Americans some "real art" for a change.
The paintings in the gallery are accompanied by very little text, just a basic description of what we're seeing, unlike the web site where they act more as illustrations to a story. I think this is an important distinction that's necessary to enjoying the work. The paintings make the work about the soldiers, not about the painter/narrator. Soldiers that are dying doing boring everyday stuff, not shocking and aweing (this is where I think you could say the criticism lies if you were so inclined).
More on the politics of Mumford's drawings on a Thing (or Thing-related) BBS.
Dead link immediately above. I did eventually see Mumford's drawings in person and while I agree with Joe that sometimes an artist's eye can see more deeply than the newsperson's camera, I don't think that's the case here. More on the Baghdad drawings here.
I don't understand all this allusion to his "skill." The watercolors look like copies from photos . . . dead, second hand. I thought that was part of it. Am I totally missing the point?
Do you mean, is it supposed to be inept, like early David Salle drawings? No, most of his fans, even jaded art worlders who should know better, seem to think he has a gift. My follow up to Mr. Potts, et al is here.