In the comments to an earlier post, Aaron Yassin says: "Although I don't mind a few New Dumb Little Paintings here and there (some of them can be pretty cute) I'm not as sympathetic as you or Jerry Saltz are to the genre. I'm actually more mystified by the continued proliferation of the form and view it as one more sign that we are really in the midst of a mannerist period." He asks what I think is important about the genre.
First, don't give too much weight to Saltz's opinion since he has what art historiographer James Elkins calls a "positionless position" on art. The brief for bad painting, however, has remained fairly strong since it was first identified by Marcia Tucker and others in the late 70s. Here's the gist of an argument: Technological developments in "imaging" (first photography, now digital tools) are in the process of making painting as historic as hot lead typesetting, whether we like it or not, and there are only two ways it can go now. It can merge into technological practice and/or it can be the most idiosyncratic, unco-optable form of personal expression. "Mannerist" implies decadence but idiosyncratic personal expression is absolutely vital and essential in a world dominated by mass-(re)produced media. Jim Shaw's "Thrift Store Paintings" show at Metro Pictures was a landmark because it harnessed the power of many individuals' "one good painting" (good meaning punchy or hard-to-forget) and also presaged the role of the artist as curator of such phenomena, an increasingly common practice on the Web. I could go on but that's it in a nutshell. To me, "mannerism" is the postmodern AbEx painting at Von Lintel gallery in Chelsea.
In that they are everywhere--you look recently, here too--these not so new dumb little paintings hardly signal an error in the machine. Quite the contrary, the words 'new' + 'dumb' +' little', are what the machine is very proud to order in--budget savvy + novel--not to mention neat little clashing symbols--you know the one's--invigoration () degradation. Some of this elk is good. But it's rare!
I think the argument you provide is a decent one. In fact, I agree with it, but I donít think it makes a case for ďNew Dumb Little Paintings (NDLP)Ē as a viable genre. I think your point about the vitality of idiosyncratic personal expression is of specific importance. It is exactly my point because I would argue that much of the NDLP that I see looks alike or at best its far too similar (of course I have to exclude Rot Gut from this). As far as Iím concerned most of this work doesn't provide much idiosyncratic personal expression. So much of it rips off fashion, illustration, and design from the 70ís and 80ís. The result is that this work is dominated by mass-(re)produced media. I keep seeing things that remind me of the drawings from the 80's music video for the Ah-Ha song "Take on Me" among other media influenced sources. The gimmick is that the NDLP are done by hand. Generally what that makes me think is: oooh neat!
My link to Von Lintel gallery wasn't meant to single out David Row--it's just that he's on the front page. Ideally I'd link to the entire artist list, but it's a frames site and I can't.
I re-read Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" a couple of weeks ago, and copied this quote that got under my skin:
Seems to me that spectacle plays a big role in the proliferation of NDLP. Of course there is also the market. In my town there is a "funky gallery district" with plucky Mom-and-Pop commercial galleries that show NDLP in spades. Also a little NDLS (New Dumb Little Sculptures). The art market here (Toronto) can't bear much work on a more amibitious scale. That's fairly obvious and pragmatic, and I actually thought at first that the genre was specific to Canada, where there are tons of artists and hardly any collectors. I've been suprised in the past years to see NDLP proliferating around the world! What gives? I think it comes back to spectacle. These paintings are like groupies, trying to get a good seat at the big art show, but not aspiring to play on stage. They are "good enough" to get some action. Of course there are individuals who see themselves as outside all of that art amibition, whose drive and integrity and utter absorption in their art keep them personally in an isolation bubble, who make small gritty honest things that may or not ever be shown. But that phenonmenon is unusual, and maybe (?got to think about this more) the artists' feelings on the matter are not really relevant in the big picture.
As I hope my timeline makes clear, the artists I'm talking about are showing in New York and have been at or near the center of discourse here for a couple of decades. Their aims are ambitious and the "dumbness" often disguises a sharp intellect. Jim Shaw's Thrift Store Paintings show was one of the few overt nods towards the larger demotic or demographic of real amateurs (or the middleweights you're describing), but then, it had Shaw's curatorial brain at the core.
is there something of an a list b list structure to this critique? ndlp is a b list medium with potential to launch a list artwork. shaw moved outsider b listers inside. a list being art which deserves appreciation for its unique merit and b list being derivative and lacking merit.
Yes, but the line between a and b is razor fine, which makes this an interesting but hard-to-manage discussion. Often the difference between good bad and bad bad hinges on a highly refined smartass urban irony, which is hard to quantify in art historical terms.
I realise the term ambition is a bit ambiguous. There's career ambition, and there's also the ambition an artist has for the functional, communicative agency of their work. I suspect that neither the hinterland NDPL-ers nor the NYC NDPL-ers doing their sassy thing in the middle of discourse-land have tons of ambition for the operative impact of the artwork. Or maybe I'm just missing the keen contemporary cultural relevance of quirky portraiture in pretty pop colours. (By the way, we have smartass "urban" irony in Canada too. Royal Art Lodge, for example, is from Winnipeg.)
1. "Career ambition, and...the ambition an artist has for the functional, communicative agency of their work." Same thing.
"Do I need to annotate it?" ...maybe ... it's your blog. I'm not getting the point, but I am just one old crank in the wilderness and I am willing to let it drop. I'll go do some research and get back to you.