Art I Dislike

On Beauty, Aesthetics, and the Lack of it in Conceptual Art. by Chris Hall

 Marcel Duchamp (the father of conceptual art),  Fountaine , 1917

Marcel Duchamp (the father of conceptual art), Fountaine, 1917

“For more than four centuries, the idea of “making it beautiful” has been the keystone of our cultural vernacular - the lover's machine gun and the prisoner's joy – the last redoubt of the disenfranchised and the single direct route, without a detour through church and state, from the image to the individual.  Now that lost generosity, like Banquo's ghost, is doomed to haunt our discourse about contemporary art – no longer required to recommend images to our attention or to insinuate them into vernacular memory, no longer welcome even to try.”  Dave Hickey, The Invisible Dragon.

For many years, while in my youth, I denied the importance of beauty when making a work of art, slightly favoring content over form.  It was a mistake on my part, as I tended to conflate notions of conventional beauty (think 19th century academic art) with generalized aesthetics.  But I've since learned that beauty, even conventional beauty, can be a useful tool (like humor) to smuggle in controversial/problematic ideas to an audience who may not be willing to receive a "message" willingly.  Aesthetics puts the sugar in the cough syrup, essentially.  More than just a tool for art for art's sake beauty (which indeed, does serve a purpose – healing the wounded psyche, so often marred by modern life, is a noble use for beauty and for art), aesthetics is a useful communication tool; it is useful in that it can attract and advertise ideas (as opposed to products).  Aesthetics can attract a viewer toward an artwork, and if properly deployed, its nuances can help convey a message, a feeling, an idea – communicate.  If art could be said to have a prime directive, then it might be the need to effectively communicate to others.

 Joseph Kosuth,  One and Three Chairs , 1965.

Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs, 1965.

Again, I am not limiting myself to just notions of conventional beauty (what I may find beautiful, others may not, and visa versa) , but to aesthetics as a whole.  Beauty is guided (though not governed) by aesthetics – the kinds of things you learn about in foundations classes (color, contrast, repetition, etc).  Aesthetics, when learned and used, can be an effective tool in communication.  Increasingly, however, art (most especially contemporary conceptual art) is divorcing itself all together from aesthetics.  Without aesthetics, however, there is nothing to draw a viewer in, and nothing to help clarify meaning and message.

 Maurizio Bolognini,  Programmed Machines,  1992-97 (hundreds of computers are programmed to generate random images which nobody would see).

Maurizio Bolognini, Programmed Machines, 1992-97 (hundreds of computers are programmed to generate random images which nobody would see).

Perhaps we can partly forgive a conceptual work if the message or proposed idea is worth examining and to our benefit, but post-modern skepticism and pessimism often denies us this, giving us instead a smug, nihilist perspective, self-congratulatory stuff, and stuff too reliant on being cool and clever.  On a good day we might get art with a simple, pat, feel good message, but that kind of art will only get you so far.  Rarely do I see any contemporary conceptual art that actually challenges or inspires.   Instead we get theses and investigations.  All of this, of course, assumes that the conceptual art effectively communicates its message, and too often, it does not.  Too often these works rely on a supporting artist's or critic's text in order to explain the intent (and without the use of aesthetics to draw a person in, the viewer's curiosity to even want to investigate those texts is voided).  But let us suppose that viewer's curiosity is piqued, and they choose to seek out and read the supporting text – what might they expect to get in return?   They can expect to be rebuffed by a wall of vague, cryptic, elitist International Art English jargon.  The ability to effectively communicate in art is important if one hopes to have any kind positive effect on the world.  More often than not, though, contemporary conceptual art fails to meet even this very basic requirement.   Supporters of contemporary conceptual art practices tend to be academic elitist cognoscenti,  left brain types who distrust poetry, more statisticians than artists, they are those who can dispense with beauty, who choose to speak the puffed up jargon filled International Art English gibberish as a means to impress their peers rather than to clarify their argument, and they are not willing to condescend themselves to speak in a language everyone can understand, perhaps for fear that their argument might be exposed as a fraud.  Their world view is head heavy and lacks a visceral life body, and for all their pluralist rhetoric, they think nothing of openly mocking art that doesn't fit into their world view (no-no buzzwords include:  universal, heroic, individualism, catharsis, beauty, originality, self-discovery . . . incidentally, all things championed by Modernism).  It is an exclusive rather than an inclusive practice.

 Lam Hoi Sin, installation from  The Crap Show , 2012.  I can support this one.  The communication is clear, if ironic and at least the artist is being honest with himself.

Lam Hoi Sin, installation from The Crap Show, 2012.  I can support this one.  The communication is clear, if ironic and at least the artist is being honest with himself.

I realize I am being very judgmental here and making sweeping generalizations, so I would like to point out that unlike my many other conceptual art detractors (notably my Stuckist brothers and sisters), I am not completely anti-conceptual art (many Stuckists will go so far as to even condemn abstract painting).  I am, however, against the failure of art to properly communicate  – and the nihilist, skeptical, pessimistic (or pat) messages often contained within them.  Beauty and aesthetics are equally as important as content and message; ideally, good art must have a balance of head, heart, and body.  I do believe that it is possible for conceptual art (with the aid of aesthetics) to communicate more effectively to an audience beyond elitists in the know, and to do so with challenging and inspiring content.  Sadly, in my experience at least, those instances are few, and far in-between.

On Celebrity Pop-Culture Fan Tribute Art by Chris Hall

 I've seen variations of this image copied by a number of artists.  Very Unoriginal.

I've seen variations of this image copied by a number of artists.  Very Unoriginal.

"If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!"  Zen Master Linji.

Yeah, I might hurt some feelings on this blog, but it has got to be said.

I drew baseball players and rock stars once . . . when I was twelve!  Grow Up!  I am tired of seeing celebrity fan tribute art.  I see it everywhere and it is an eye pollutant.  I swear, if I see one more Batman, Joker “why so serious?,” Bane drawing, I think I just might vomit.  Same goes for Walking Dead and Breaking Bad art.  Pop culture drivel has very little place in art, even when it has an ironic message.  Life is serious business.  What you watch on TV is not.  Art deserves more.  What message is there in fan art?  There is none.  What is the critique?  There is none.  Can you come up with an original idea of your own?  I challenge you.  Fan art is everywhere.  The Deviantart website is full of it.  At least they have it in a category of its own, so you can separate the chaff from the wheat.

The same critique above also applies to Manga illustration.  I'm not anti-cartoon by any stretch.  There are a lot of really good cartoonists out there who produce high quality art and who have their own vision.  But for the most part, I find Manga style animation to be childish, uninspired, and unoriginal.  Grow the fuck up.  Find out what kind of art you might make, not what other people make.  Know Yourself.  Kill your idols.  

Sorry if I hurt your feelings.

Collateral Damage by Chris Hall

 Michael Asher,  Untitled  (1991).

Michael Asher, Untitled (1991).

In recent art news, Hyperallergic wrote that Michael Asher's piece, Untitled (1991), which was installed on the University of California San Diego campus, was destroyed by a masked vandal with a sledge hammer.  The vandal also destroyed eight surveillance cameras surrounding the campus’ performing arts center.

Asher's Untitled (1991) is nothing more than a generic indoor water fountain installed outside.  Vic Viana, author of the Hyperallergic article, writes that Untitled (1991) “subverted the conventions of outdoor fountain design while also serving a practical function for thirsty students.”  So the piece is subversive, how hilarious is that?!  Mary Beebe,  director of the university's Stuart Collection of site-specific art, informs us in a video link in the article that, “Many people have a drink out of this fountain without realizing it’s art.” 

It is sad to see any work of art destroyed, even the work we don't like (in a democracy we have to be open to the opinions of others), but I have to go on record as saying this work was really, really bad.  It reminds me of Damien Hirst's cigarette butt filled ash tray that was left in a gallery and accidentally thrown out.  If you make art celebrating the mundane, indistinguishable from everyday life, you shouldn't expect the world to treat that object with any reverence or respect.  I wonder how many people have let their dogs piss on it, or how many people have stuck their chewing gum on this piece over the years?  As for my own taste in things, I believe art should aspire to transform its audience in some way.  Untitled (1991) piece purposefully blended into the background.  It didn't function as art, it functioned as a water fountain, and no amount of intellectual gymnastics will ever change that.  I would like to think the sledgehammer attacker was a conceptual art iconoclast, but no, the reality is the wrecked water fountain is nothing more than the collateral damage.  

While I would not like to go so far as to say vandalism is art, I do think the vandal's statement, knocking out the security cameras, could be interpreted as a clumsy critique on the growing acceptance of “big brother” surveillance and intrusion into our daily activities.  And, if that was indeed the intent of the campus vandal, then I would like to be the first to say that the campus vandalism was a much more subversive act than anything Michael Asher's Untitled (1991) pretended to be.  

Yayoi Kusama: Queen of Polka-dots by Chris Hall

1 kusama2.jpg

My first impression of Yayoi Kusama’s work was not favorable.  What I saw was phenomena art, kind of like Op Art . . . no real substance beyond just what you see.  It seemed to me that her work had a 60’s psychedelic design flavor to it.  I knew she was associated with Pop Art and had exhibited alongside both Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg, both artists I do not care much for.  I also knew that she had no problem translating her art into pop culture consumer products.  She is shameless promoting her collaborative efforts with Louis Vuitton.  

Then there are the endless self portraits, photographs of her in front of her work.  I thought her art was kind of narcissistic.  Her outlandish clothing blurs into the paintings behind her, and blurs the line between fine art and fashion.  I am not one to really care about fashion and outward appearances, I’ve always been more concerned with what is deeper and inside, nor am I one to care much about cults of personalities.   I’ve always thought her self-portraits literally got in the way of the paintings behind her.

Yayoi Kusama is the Queen of Polka-dots.  Where Damien Hirst’s spot paintings are cold and pharmaceutical, Kusama’s art at least has a celebratory feel to it.  I’ll giver her credit for that.  This is a reflection from the peace and love idealism she embraced in the 60’s.  Still, I could not get past that a lot of her work was reminiscent of a fabric pattern.  

All of these negative things really colored my perspective of both her and her work.  So, it was to my surprise when I discovered that she had once identified with the abstract expressionists, this was before she changed allegiances to Pop Art in the 1960’s.  She made some really good work.  In reading about her, I found she could be really deep and psychically aware.  Here is a really good quote from her concerning one of her paintings, Flower (D.S.P.S.), 1954:

One day I was looking at the red flower patterns of the tablecloth on a table, and when I looked up I saw the same pattern covering the ceiling, the windows and the walls, and finally all over the room, my body and the universe. I felt as if I had begun to self-obliterate, to revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space, and be reduced to nothingness. As I realized it was actually happening and not just in my imagination, I was frightened. I knew I had to run away lest I should be deprived of my life by the spell of the red flowers. I ran desperately up the stairs. The steps below me began to fall apart and I fell down the stairs straining my ankle.

It is clear that Kusama is sensitive to her surroundings, a signature of a good artist.  Perhaps this sensitivity is why she has chosen to live in a psychiatric hospital ever since 1977.  What about the polka-dots?  They are more than just decorative elements to her.  This is what she has to say about the dots:

A polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colorful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots become movement ... Polka dots are a way to infinity.

This might not always translate to me in her work, but I like that in her heart she still has an appreciation for symbolism (many in contemporary art do not).  I have also learned to like some of her recent installation work.  I find that it can be beautiful and even, at times, sublime.  Her work sometimes suggests to me self-obliteration, infinity, losing yourself, and dissolving the ego into the universal void.  There is some spirituality hidden in there!  This is not your average everyday Pop Art!  

It is good to be skeptical . . . just do not allow it to overwhelm your curiosity. I am glad I dug deeper into Kusama's art and gave it another chance.  I've learned to appreciate both the substance and motivation behind some of her work. Unfortunately we do have to be willing to get past work such as her video piece Manhattan Suicide Addict (2010) in order to access it.

On "Teen Paranormal Romance," an Exhibit at the ACAC by Chris Hall

 Kathryn Andrews,  Friends and Lovers , 2010, part of "Teen Paranormal Romance" on display at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center.

Kathryn Andrews, Friends and Lovers, 2010, part of "Teen Paranormal Romance" on display at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center.

Young adult fiction, as typified by books such as “Twillight,” “Divergent,” “Hunger Games,” and the Harry Potter series, is a fantasy genre populated with wizards, werewolves, vampires, and super humans. While marketed toward teens, it is also widely consumed by adults looking for a cheap escapist fix.  Industry analysts estimate that over a half of its readers are over 18.  Because of its expanded fan base, the genre has become very profitable for book publishers, who seem to churn out the books at ever increasing rate.  Mindful of these profits, many of the books have been translated into blockbuster films.  Like it or not, it seems YA fiction has entered our popular culture zeitgeist and shows no sign of waning.  I have no problem with teens reading Young Adult fiction, but adults should consider growing up and reading something more challenging, more to their level, or better yet, get out of their escapist fantasy space and do something better for the community. “Teen Paranormal Romance” does make this critique, in its own way, by making a critique of consumerism within the genre and by distancing itself from all things within the realm of the unconscious, which exhibit curator Hamza Walker defines in “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the essay accompanying the show, as “an internal psychic space . . . a derelict playground where there are no children, only weeds.”  But it is a real shame that many artists today have abandoned the unconscious, a real well-spring for the imagination and a source for psychic truths, and the only reference to it in our cultural zeitgeist is a superficial escapist preoccupation within young adult fiction.  Instead many of today’s contemporary artists opt for a different set of aesthetics, in the case of the artists in “Teen Paranormal Romance,” that would be the machine like, empty language of consumerism and popular culture.  For the most part, all the work in “Teen Paranormal Romance” have abandoned any kind of psychic inquires or emotional pathos.   In this way, “Teen Paranormal Romance” is typical of the cold, cerebral investigations in contemporary postmodern art practices today.  

I will not take the time here to describe to you the works within the exhibition.  If you are interested in learning more about the work within “Teen Paranormal Romance,” you can read Jacquelyn OCallaghan’s excellent review of it for burnaway.org here:  Parsing the Psychosexual in "Teen Paranormal Romance" at the ACAC. 

Jeff Koons: King of Kitsch by Chris Hall

Despite being the King of Kitsch (or maybe because of it), Jeff Koons makes a pretty good dime off his work.  He holds the record for the most expensive work ever sold at auction, Balloon Dogs (Orange) sold for $58.4 million dollars.  He has regularly employed assistants for his work, stating in the 80’s with about 30, to the present, where he employs about 120 people, working in a huge 16,000 square foot factory.  Without any underlying critique in his work, Jeff Koons becomes the poster child of American decadence in art.

Jeff Koons began his career in the 80’s by displaying recontextualized everyday items, such as an inflatable rabbit and vacuum cleaners.  Later he would expand his practice by producing a series of basketballs floating in aquariums full of water.  

Perhaps acknowledging his new role in bringing the banal to the art gallery, he began creating porcelain sculptures, starting with Ushering in Banality (1988) and culminating in Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1998).

In 1989 Jeff Koons, with his then wife, the politician and porn star Ilona Staller, began making work for the Made in Heaven series.  Made in Heaven is essentially Koons and Staller making porn and recontextualizing it as art.  The work can get pretty explicit.  Below are some tame examples from the series.

In the mid 90’s Koons began making his giant Balloon Dog sculptures out of polished steel, and a series of plastic sculptures, such as his Lobster and Cat on a Clothesline (1994-2001).  His most recent works include a limited edition label design for Dom Perignon (2004) and a sculpture and cover art for a Lady GaGa album (2013). 

Despite his success in the art world, Koons has his critics.  In an article comparing the contemporary art scene with show business, renowned critic Robert Hughes wrote that Koons is “an extreme and self-satisfied manifestation of the sanctimony that attaches to big bucks. Koons really does think he's Michelangelo and is not shy to say so. The significant thing is that there are collectors, especially in America, who believe it. He has the slimy assurance, the gross patter about transcendence through art, of a blow-dried Baptist selling swamp acres in Florida. And the result is that you can't imagine America's singularly depraved culture without him.”

Damien Hirst: an Obsession with Death by Chris Hall

Reportedly the richest artist alive in the UK, Damien Hirst first burst into the art world in the 1990’s with his work A Thousand Years (1990) which consists of a large glass case containing maggots and flies feeding on a rotting cow's head.  At the time Hirst is reported as saying,"I can’t wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it. At the moment if I did certain things people would look at it, consider it and then say 'f off'. But after a while you can get away with things."  

 Damien Hirst,  A Thousand Years , 1990

Damien Hirst, A Thousand Years, 1990

Hirst followed AThousand Years with a series of dead animals suspended in formaldehyde.  Among the most iconic of these is his The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), created with money out of Charles Saatchi’s pocket.  He was nominated for the Turner Prize for the work in 1991, but lost to Grenville Davey (Hirst would win it later in 1995).  

Damien is also known for his Spot paintings. Thousands are known to exist, thanks to Hirst’s army of assistants, who rotate between paintings, but allow Hirst to have the final touch.  These mechanical paintings are purposefully devoid of any human sensibility.  

Damien Hirst, Abalone Acetone Powder, 1991

In 2007 Hirst made For the Love of God, a human skull recreated in platinum and encrusted with 8,601 diamonds and real human teeth.  It sold to consortium for $100,000,000.  Besides making another work obsessed with Death, he also created an object of art as a shameless display of wealth.

Damien Hirst, For the Love of God, 2007

Like Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst is not opposed to translating his work his work into the language of mass consumption.  Below are examples of Damien Hirst shoes, Damien Hirst pants, and Damien Hirst perfume.

I don’t mind a little Death in my art . . . it is a reality, a part of our human condition, and we need to be reminded of it.  But Death is the enemy, and we need to also remember to celebrate Life as well.    

Andy Warhol: Art of Superficiality by Chris Hall

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962

“You’re a killer of art, you’re a killer of beauty, and you’re even a killer of laughter. I can’t bear your work!” 
Willem de Kooning, yelling at Andy Warhol at a Larry Rivers party.


Where artist like Beuys sought to make the world a better place through their art, clearly did Warhol did not.  By mimicking the aesthetic of commerce and advertising, he only added to our cultural clutter.  By celebrating the idea of celebrity, he championed superficiality.  If artists like de Kooning are an ocean in their depth, Warhol is a dirty puddle.

One of Warhol’s first commercial successes was his 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962).

Andy Warhol, 32 Campbells Soup Cans, 1962

The soup cans at least could not be confused with the real thing, but Warhol soon remedied that with his Brillo Boxes, (1964).

Andy Warhol, Brillo Boxes, 1964

I love Los Angeles. I love Hollywood. They're beautiful. Everybody's plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic. Andy Warhol.  By celebrating superficiality and celebrity culture, Andy Warhol became a celebrity himself.  

Soon Warhol puts himself before the work.  In Warhol’s first museum show at the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art in 1965, the expected crowd was eager not so much to see the work, but rather the artist.  Warhol obliged them when Sam Green, fearing that the work might be damaged in the crowd, ordered that the work be taken down from the gallery walls.  

Andy Warhol at the Philadelphia ICA show, 1965

With fame came money, and Andy, true to his superficiality, loved money more than anything else in the world.  I'd asked around 10 or 15 people for suggestions... Finally one lady friend asked the right question, "Well, what do you love most?" That's how I started painting money.  Andy Warhol.  Warhol also tells us, Making money is art.  And working is art.  And good business is the best art.  There is nothing wrong with making money from your art, but making money is certainly not art.  

Andy Warhol, 200 One Dollar Bills, 1962

The people gave Andy Warhol wealth and fame, and what does he give us in return?  He purposefully tries to bore us to death.  One film, Empire (1964), is nothing more than slow motion, static footage of the Empire State building, stretched out to eight hours and five minutes.  The video below is a ten minute excerpt, but a poor quality full length version is available on YouTube if you wish to torture yourself.

Excerpt from Empire, 1964

Oh, and here is another video, Andy Warhol Eating a Hamburger (1982).  No meaning, no aesthetic, nothing but banal, boring nonsense.  At least with his celebrity portraits there was a formal aesthetic, composition and color, but here the boredom seems calculated and cruel.  There is nothing here, nothing to take away, just Andy Warhol, eating a hamburger.

Andy Warhol Eating a hamburger, 1982

The Art of Stealing by Chris Hall

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to."  Jim Jarmusch

Good artists copy, great artists steal.  Pablo Picasso.

 Pablo Picasso,  Guitar , 1913

Pablo Picasso, Guitar, 1913

Maybe Picasso is referring to the collage elements in some of his work, where you steal elements from newspapers and advertisement, cultural clutter, and transcend the original.  It is important to transcend the original if one wants to create a valid work of art, or else you are creating homage (and there is nothing wrong with that, but you can not build a career on homage).  The process of artistic theft has been around since the first artists; it is a grand tradition that works in a variety of media. 

Sound artists Negativland steal from a variety of sources and create true sound collage.  For one album, they ripped of a U2 song and outtakes of American Top 40 DJ Casey Kasem cursing while dedicating a U2 song to a dog named Snuggles.  Negativland was sued by both Casey Kasem and Island records.  Artist Girl Talk, however, famous for his pop song mash-ups, pays homage.  Clever as the work is, Girl Talk’s work does not always transcend the original sources.  I get the same pleasure out of listening to a Girl Talk song as I do listening to the original sources (and often, I prefer the original).  Below are links to listen to examples from Negativland and Girl Talk.

If you are going to steal, use the theft to make a better art, and if you can’t do that, make a different or critical interpretation from the original source.  If you can’t do that, well, then you’ve made homage . . . and if your original source is something banal, such a newspaper, or cultural pollution such as an advertisement, well, then you done the world a bad thing by creating more useless clutter. 

In the above quote, Jarmusch says “select only things to steal that speak directly to your soul.  If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.”  I have to agree.  Sherrie Levine, who uses theft to critic modern art, chooses work that for some reason does not speak to her soul and it reflects in her work, which is definitely inauthentic.  Levine would most likely say that is the point, to challenge notions of authenticity.  I would then have to ask, why?  Why is it so important for you to produce work that is so decidedly inauthentic?  What are you trying to challenge?  Below are two works "by" Sherrie Levine.  The first is a pixelated photo of Cezanne painting, followed by a black and white photograph of a Van Gogh portrait.

Balthus: Art or Pedophilia? by Chris Hall

 Balthus,  Therese Dreaming , 1933

Balthus, Therese Dreaming, 1933

Not much was known about Balthus during his lifetime.  He insisted that his paintings should be seen and not read about, and he resisted any attempts from others to build a biographic profile. A telegram sent to the Tate Gallery as it prepared for its 1968 retrospective of his works read: 

NO BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS. BEGIN: BALTHUS IS A PAINTER OF WHOM NOTHING IS KNOWN. NOW LET US LOOK AT THE PICTURES. REGARDS. B.

Was Balthus shy, perhaps a recluse?  Did he have something to hide?  Many of his paintings show young girls in suggestive poses.  Balthus insisted that his work was not erotic, but that it merely recognized the discomforting facts of children’s sexuality.  If anyone sees lasciviousness in the work, then it is a reflection of the mind of the viewer.  For my own part I was once attracted to Balthus’work (they are beautifully painted), but this was also tempered with embarrassment and repulsion.  Anyone who can look at Balthus’ work with detachment (as both Balthus and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who housed a retrospective of his work in 2013, would have us do), well, congratulations.  These paintings were not meant to shock.  I sense too much love in them, and that is kind of creepy.  Balthus died in 2001 at the ripe old age of 92.  Bono of U2 sang at his funeral, which was attended by hundreds of people, including the president of France. 

 Balthus,  The Guitar Lesson , 1934

Balthus, The Guitar Lesson, 1934

Shortly after his death the accusations started to come out.  It is now known that Balthus did in fact have carnal relations with his teenage models, he even took as a mistress Laurence Bataille, daughter of writer George Bataille, step-daughter of famed psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.  It is said hindsight is 20/20.  We can now see other facts of Balthus' life supporting the pedophilia claim, his first wife, Antoinette, was renown for looking ten years younger for her age, and his second wife, Setsuko, was 34 years his junior.  

In 2013 the Metropolitan Museum of Art held a Balthus show, but decided against including some of his more provocative works, such as The Guitar Lesson, 1934.  Meanwhile, in Germany earlier this year, an exhibition of Balthus’ Polaroid photographs was cancelled for fear of a public backlash and legal consequences. 

I often make a point of defending artwork from the sins of the artist, but the circumstances are different here.  Irregardless of Balthus’ intent, his artwork, beautiful as they are . . . in the eyes of the contemporary viewer, they glorify pedophilia . . . and I can not support this.  Balthus let his personal prejudices creep into his art, and we can judge the work for that.  I have to say that Balthus’ crimes, as committed on canvas, trumps any aesthetic pleasure I may have gotten out of it.  Goodbye, Balthus.  

For the Love of the Hunt by Chris Hall

I recently read about Andre Breton’s ambivalence toward painting, which is surprising since he is in the vanguard of Surrealist thought and theory.  Breton writes that painting is a “lamentable expedient in the service of the revolution.”  This attitude, that making art is a chore, saddens me.  Breton only sees the end result, the art object and not the process, as worthy of consideration.  This attitude strips the importance of loving the process of making art out of the equation.  

Nathan Coley is one artist who seems to hate the process of making art.  The 2007 Turner Prize nominee described his working process for The Lamp of Sacrifice, 286 Place of Worship, Edinburgh (2004) as “there was nothing beautiful or exciting about it.  After two weeks it became total drudgery.”  For The Lamp of Sacrifice, Coley constructed miniatures of all the places of worship in Edinburgh, Scotland, not out of fascination, love, or reverence, but to inquire into the “insidious hold religion holds on our society.” Even anger would have been an acceptable emotion, as anger with something at least proves that you must love something else in equal measure.  It is possible to construct a critical work of art and still love the art making process, but I don’t believe Coley truly likes making art, and this is where I think he errors.  If you hate making art, I suggest you stop being an artist.  We don’t need you.  There are plenty of people who like making art who will gladly take your place.  When you approach the art making process without love in your heart, it ends up reflecting in the work.  I see it too often in contemporary art practices . . . cold, intellectual investigations made without love.  

Below are some of Nathan Coley's cold, intellectual investigations, made without love.

We Lost Another Painter by Chris Hall

Oscar Murillo, Untitled (Yoga), 2012

28 year old Oscar Murillo is an overnight sensation.  Born in La Paila Columbia, he moved to London at age ten where he started making paintings reminiscent of Cy Twombly and Jean Michel Basquiat.  His work, with its searching lines and bold colors is indebted to the Neo-Expressionist tradition, but also has flavors of Pop Art in that the works often have text scrawled on them, mundane words like:  yoga, milk, or burrito.  Now Murillo has his first solo show at David Zwirner Gallery . . . and guess what . . . he isn’t showing any paintings!  

The show is called A Mercantille Novel, and it’s a working rendition of a Columbian candy factory.  According to the press release, the factory is staffed with “experienced candy-making employees going about their daily work as usual.”  They are making Chocmelos, a chocolate covered marshmallow, and, if all goes as planned, the work is supposed to raise questions on immigration, globalism, displacement, and socio-economic conditions in the United States, Columbia, and beyond.  The work is a squeaky clean production line, set up at enormous expense by an outside corporation, which makes me even question whether the work can even technically be called Murillo's.  

When asked about why he chose not to show paintings for his New York solo debut, Murillo said that the work would have been “redundant,” that “this is where my practice is now.”  

It is a real shame that Murillo, with so much promise, chose to go over to the “Dark-Side” by championing the banal aesthetics of a corporation.  It seems we lost another painter.  

The gallery touts that "Over the course of the exhibition, tens of thousands of candies will be produced and given away for free,” and that "gallery visitors and volunteers are invited to take candy and share it throughout the city’s five boroughs, whether on foot, by bike, by taxi, by subway, by bus, etc., thus reflecting all modes of typical transportation throughout New York City and the diversity of its communities."  Well, at least there is free candy.

 Oscar Murillo,  A Merchantile Novel , 2014

Oscar Murillo, A Merchantile Novel, 2014

Six Art Problems by Chris Hall

Postmodernism shuns useful rules and conventions and rationalizes inferior art by wrapping it in words—a suit of armor with no one inside. It thrives in the academy, where language abandons reality to serve ambition, and reputations rise on hot air. It is silly and joyless at the same time.  Postmodernism seems to be fading away. Let’s hope! But when it comes to trendy intellectual nonsense, academia is infinitely resourceful. What will it come up with next?
Walter Darby Bannard


Claes Oldenberg – The Store, 1961.  The Store was an installation, literally in a store.  In it Oldenberg sold life-size little objects made of plaster such as food, shirts, ties, cigarette packs, lingerie, and other commodities.  The Store both celebrated and critiqued popular culture and American consumerism.  It was also made to make fun of the grand gestures of Abstract Expressionism. Sure, nicely executed, but in championing the mundane, please don’t be surprised if I get bored and walk away.

Bridget Riley – Movement in Squares, 1961.   A fine example of Op Art, Op Art is all about movement and illusion . . . and not much else.  Essentially it all design without any critical commentary.  And since I don’t find anything attractive in it, even as a design, it is very easy for me to dismiss.  Despite not being well received by the critics, it proved to be very popular with the public.  Soon Op Art was used in a number of commercial contexts.  Bridget Riley sued an American company for incorporating her art into fabric designs, without success. 

Roelof Louw – Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges), 1967.  There is nothing soulful about it. It is just a pile of 6,000 oranges, stacked in a pyramid.  Visitors to the galley are invited to take away an orange and eat it.  The work is meant to raise questions on ephemerality, the passage of time, and decay.  If that is the case, then it fails on me.  The Tate recently recreated the piece for roughly $47,000, so it comes out roughly to $8 an orange, proof that even a bad idea can be commoditized.

Lawrence Weiner -  A Rubber Ball Thrown on the Sea - Cat. No. 146, 1969.
It is currently displayed at the Hirshhorn Museum in large, blue, sans-serif lettering. Weiner is open to the seven words being produced in any color, size or font.  The work destroys any notion of the artist as auteur, because, like Sol LeWitt’s drawing instructions, it requires other people’s labor and decision making for it to exist.  It deconstructs the once widely held belief that art is something to be praised and is special.  

Wim Delvoye – Cloaca, 2000.  Cloaca, also known as the "poo-machine", is probably Wim Delvoye's most famous art installation. In 2000, he put together complex machinery at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, Belgium, that mimics the action of the human digestive system and converts food in feces. Real food is dropped down a funnel into a meat grinder (simulating the teeth) twice a day. Then, viewers can follow the food as it makes its way through a series of glass containers containing human digestive juices and enzymes, which represent the various stages of digestion. At the end of the tract, the machine produces feces which are then vacuum-packed and sold in translucent boxes.  When asked about his inspiration, Delvoye stated that “everything in modern life is pointless. The most useless object I could create was a machine that serves no purpose at all, besides the reduction of food to waste.”  

Attila Csorgo – Novecento, 2008.  It is a dead horse suspended from the ceiling.  At first glance, the work seems a bit gratuitous.  After some reading (why is it always necessary for me to read text in order for me to get conceptual art?) it turns out that the work references a 1976 Italian film 1900 (pronounced Novecento in Italian).  1900 is about Italian Modernity, presenting Fascism and Communism in opposition to each other.  Csorog’s Novecento is meant to be a eulogy for these 20th century revolutionary impulses.  What isn’t clear is Csorgo’s intentions:  is the artist lamenting the loss of radical politics or lampooning their failure?  Without clarity we are left with nothing but a dead horse hanging from the ceiling.

The Artist as Nuisance by Chris Hall

"The artist as hero is long gone from American culture, and the artist as social critic is ineffective." Robert Hughes

So what is left?  Referencing Bruce Nauman in a review for Time magazine in 1995, Robert Hughes suggests that all we are left with is the artist as nuisance.  Is that all an artist has to offer, all that an artist can ever hope to be?  I sincerely hope not.  

I, at least, aspire to greater things.

  Bruce Nauman's Self Portrait as Fountain , 1966

Bruce Nauman's Self Portrait as Fountain, 1966

 Bruce Nauman's  Clown Torture , 1987

Bruce Nauman's Clown Torture, 1987

 Bruce Nauman's  Clown Torture , 1987

Bruce Nauman's Clown Torture, 1987

31 Flavors of Bad Art by Chris Hall

31 Flavors of Bad Art:  Art, Artists, and Art Movements That I Either Find Problematic or Just Outright Dislike.

1.  Jean Honore-Fragonard – The Swing, 1767 . . . A fine example of Rococo art, in all its decadent decorativeness.  It isn’t critical of anything and serves only to please the eye, and that, not very well.  The ultimate in work inspired to produce in me a yawn. 

2.  Alexandre Cabanel – Birth of Venus, 1863.  Like most late 19th Century Academic Salon work, it is backward looking and fails to take any stance on Modernity.  At least it is interesting to look at, sometimes.

birth of venus.jpg

3.  Kasimir Malevich – Black Square, 1915.  Malevich was the founder of the Suprematist art movement.  In Suprematism (Part II of The Non-Objective World), Malevich writes:  Art no longer cares to serve the state and religion, it no longer wishes to illustrate the history of manners, it wants to have nothing further to do with the object, as such, and believes that it can exist, in and for itself, without "things" (that is, the "time-tested well-spring of life").  In his attempt to produce an art that no longer serves the state and religion, he also produced an art of negation, of life, of love, and of nature.  Contemporary to Malevich, Neoplasticist artists such as Piet Mondrian also striped their work of anything human, by reducing their palette to primary colors, black and white, and limiting their composition to horizontal and vertical forms. 

black square.jpg

4.  Marcel Duchamp and or Baroness Elsa von Freytag - Fountain, 1917.  Submitted for the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in 1917, Fountain was rejected by the committee, even though the rules stated that all works would be accepted from artists who paid the fee.  Duchamp, a failed painter, perhaps jealous of the success of his two brothers’ and sister’s success in the arts, might have created Fountain out of spite.  He would come to reject all art that he considered “retinal,” that is all art that relies on notions of aesthetics and aims only to please the eye.  Instead, Duchamp wanted to put art back into the service of the mind.  I think Duchamp was mistaken in dividing art into two camps, art made only to please the eye and art that is purely conceptual.  There are plenty of works of art that have grounding in both.  Duchamp’s Readymades were purely conceptual, “My idea was to choose an object that wouldn't attract me, either by its beauty or by its ugliness. To find a point of indifference in my looking at it, you see.”  In favoring the mundane and conceptual over aesthetics, Duchamp produced a black work that destroyed the primacy of the image.

5.  Fortunato Depero - Patriotic Storm, 1924.  Italian Futurism, an offshoot of Analytical Cubism, emphasized and glorified themes associated with contemporary concepts of the future, including speed, mechanization, technology, youth and violence, and objects such as the car, the aeroplane and the industrial city. It celebrates Fascism and many of the concepts that helped make the 20th Century such a violent and dehumanizing place.

6.  Lucio Fontana – Concetto spaziale (Spatial Concept), or Tagli (Slashes), 1949.  Like many of his works, it is a monochrome painting with sharp, precise slashes on the canvas, “to discover the space beyond”.  Fontana founded Spatialism, a movement reminiscent of Futurism, which celebrated rather than criticized Modernity. Fontana’s slashed and empty canvases seem to be a violent challenge against individuality. 

lucio_fontana_concetto_spaziale.jpg

7.  Yves Klein - The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, The Void, 1958.  An exhibition held at Iris Clert Gallery, it featured an empty room, painted white.  Guests were served International Klein Blue colored cocktails.  Critic Thomas McEvilley, in an essay for Artforum in 1982, classified Klein as an early, though enigmatic, postmodernist.  Remember, postmodernism will not have anything to do with things enigmatic, favoring instead, the mundane.  Klein’s inclusion, no doubt, has much to do with his favoring of concept over the primacy of the image. 

8.  Frank Stella – The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, 1959.  Stella, an abstract post painterly minimalist, is heralded for creating abstract paintings that bear no pictorial illusions or psychological or metaphysical references.   It is, in a sense, superficial abstract art for corporations.  Unlike the abstract expressionist work before, there is no searching for something greater in the work; instead you are presented with a cold and indifferent face. 

9.  Andy Warhol - 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962.  Warhol’s work celebrates rather than criticizes modernity’s excesses of superficiality, celebrity culture, commerciality, and the mundane.  It is apolitical and devoid of emotional and social commentary.  The work seems symptomatic rather than critical of the times.

10.  Jospeh Kosuth - One and Three Chairs, 1965. A work that definitely demands a text for proper interpretation, it consists of a chair, a picture of the same chair in the gallery, and an enlarged photograph of a dictionary definition for chair.

11.  Bruce Nauman - The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths, 1967. The work consists of the enigmatic title text displayed in the language of pop culture, a spiral neon sign.  It is meant to question what we perceive the role of the avant-garde artist to be in society.  Is it a noble gesture or a mocking call?  On the work Nauman says this:  “The most difficult thing about the whole piece for me was the statement. It was a kind of test—like when you say something out loud to see if you believe it. Once written down, I could see that the statement [...] was on the one hand a totally silly idea and yet, on the other hand, I believed it. It's true and not true at the same time. It depends on how you interpret it and how seriously you take yourself. For me it's still a very strong thought.”  If one is to consider how seriously he practiced what he preached, one need only to look at other works such as his photograph Self Portrait as a Fountain,1966, which shows the artist spouting a stream of water from his mouth, or his installation, Clown Torture, 1987.  Nauman is also famous for saying, “If I was an artist and I was in the studio, then whatever I was doing in the studio must be art.”  I could not disagree more.  Fail.

12.  Donald Judd – Untitled, 1971. This work consists of six large, blue cubes lined up in a row.  It is cool, empty, detached, signifying nothing.  Judd might say that is the point, and to that I would say, you are a sad, sad man.

untitled 1971 judd.jpg

13.  Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing #118, 1971 – Considered a founder of both minimalism and conceptual art, Sol Le Witt sought to destroy the notions of the artist author and as a champion of individuality.  Wall Drawing #118 consisted of a set of instructions for School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston students to make a drawing on a wall.  Not only did the work require other people’s hands, the set of instructions dictated that elements of randomness and chance be the guiding force necessary for execution.  I am not opposed to the use of chance in art.  Relinquishing some control in the art making process can produce interesting results, but to produce art that is totally dependent on chance, I do not believe that one can properly claim to be author of the results (assuming the results are even aesthetically valid).

lewitt 2.jpg

14.  Vito Acconci - Seedbed, 1971.  For two weeks in 1971, Vito Acconci laid below a ramp inside Sonnabend Gallery and jerked off while continually uttering his sexual fantasies about the visitors walking above him, which were broadcast through loudspeakers.  I am not shocked or disturbed by his actions; rather, I find myself asking, what is the point?  Aesthetics are certainly absent, so some sort of concept must be at work.  In an interview with The Believer, Acconci tells us the genesis of Seedbed:  “I wanted to be somewhere where I blended with the space . . . Under the floor seemed to be the most fertile, because I could move under the floor . . . But it still wasn’t clear to me at all what I would be doing there . . . So I’m stuck, and Roget’s Thesaurus sometimes is a kind of guide because it takes you from one word to another word that you might not have even known you were looking for. It’s—I don’t know if I can say it’s an idea-structuring system, but it’s an idea-loosening system. So I look up floor. Floor took me to expected words like structure, land, undercurrent. And then took me to the word, seedbed. Seedbed then clarified it that, OK, under the floor I could be making this seedbed, this bed of seed. How do I make the bed of seed? By masturbating.”  Essentially, then, Seedbed is about word play, not gender politic, not redefining the line between art and pornography, and not even about the precarious relationship between artist and art patron.  Fail.

15.  Sherrie Levine – After Walker Evans, 1980.  Levine’s work uses appropriation to raise questions of authenticity and commodification.  She deconstructs Modernism.  For After Walker Evans she re-photographed Walker Evans’ photographs, reproduced in an exhibit catalog.  Levine’s work does little to transcend Modernism, which she is obviously critical of, but rather works to belittle it, in order to make her look better by comparison.  She is a parasite.  Other artists she has deconstructed include Egon Schiele, Van Gogh, Degas, Cezanne, Miro, Mondrian, Monet, and Kirchner. 

16.  Tom Blackwell – Herald Square, 1983.  While it is possible to appreciate the realist aesthetic and the skill that goes into producing such works, it does nothing to comment on contemporary culture.  Photorealism, like Pop Art, champions the modern mundane.  Even supposing that it is a mirror held up to society, most mirrors are ineffective as a commentary.  They only flatter the subject.  Still, unlike a lot of Post-modern art, Photorealism technical proficiency is at least a labor of love.

17.  Jeff Koons – Two Ball 50/50 Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series, Spalding Dr. J. 241 Series), 1985.  The work consists of two basketballs floating in an aquarium.  That is it.  This particular work was my introduction to Post-modern art when I saw it at the Georgia Museum of Art in the summer of 1999.  I have been trying to understand ever since.  Perhaps there is nothing to understand.  Koons’ most famous piece, arguably, is his life-size gold leaf accented porcelain rendition of Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988.  Like Warhol, Koons' apolitical work champions pop culture.  His work, by his own admition, contains no hidden meanings or critiques. 

koons.jpg

18.  Tehching Hsieh -   One Year Performance 1985–1986 (No Art Piece), 1985 - 1986.  For one year, Hsieh did no art, spoke no art, saw no art, read no art, and did not enter any museum or gallery.  This is a paradox.  If Hsieh did not create art for one year, then how can the investigation or result be considered art?  Hsieh is famous for his one year long endurance performances.  Other performances include voluntary incarceration, One Year Performance 1978–1979 (Cage Piece), where he was confined in a cell. He was not allowed to talk, to read, to write, or to listen to radio and TV.  In Art / Life: One Year Performance 1983-1984 (Rope Piece), he was tied to another artist, Linda Montano, for a year, with an 8-foot-long rope. They were not allowed to touch each other until the end of the one year period.  In yet another performance, One Year Performance 1981–1982 (Outdoor Piece), he had to avoid shelter of any kind for a year (buildings, cars, airplanes, tents, etc).  While it is arguable that these at least have some merit as art as sociological experiment, his (No Art Piece) definitely falls flat.

19.  Andres Serrano – Immersion (Piss Christ), 1987.  Perhaps you’ve heard of this one.  It is a photograph of Jesus on a crucifix suspended in a jar full of urine.  Despite some apologetic interpretations, aesthetics is not the issue here.  If aesthetics were the issue, then any number of alternative substances of similar appearance could have been used (amber, polyurethane), and Serrano would not have referenced to the use of urine in the title.  It might be suggested that Serrano was actively courting controversy, which is reverse pandering, shock for shock’s sake art.  Serrano, however, has gone on record as saying the art is a relativist concept, meant to provoke questions of what he perceives as a cheapening of Christian icons in contemporary culture.  This is in line with Sister Wendy Beckett’s interpretation, which is that it is a reflection of what contemporary culture has done with Christ and his teachings.  I still contend, however, that if Serrano truly respected the value and power of symbols, he would not have disrespected the icon.  Serrano’s argument, then, exposes him as a hypocrite.

20.  Rirkrit Tiravanija – pad thai, 1990.  In this work, and in several others following, Tiravanija takes over a gallery, prepares food, and shares it with gallery visitors.  Art historian Rochelle Steiner says of Tiravanija’s work, it “is fundamentally about bringing people together.”  I do not see how changing the context, from kitchen to a gallery, makes this art.  If all Tiravanija wanted was to bring people together in a gallery, wouldn’t a proper exhibit of art produce the same results?  And concerning Tiravanija’s obsession with sharing food, I believe the world would be better served if he instead volunteered his time in a soup kitchen for the homeless. 

21.  Damien Hirst – Untitled (With BlackDot), 1988.  There are over a thousand variations of similar, spotted works, created by Hirst and his army of assistants.  All trace of human intervention is removed until the finished product appears to be constructed mechanically.  Lacking in anything resembling authenticity, Hirst’s paintings can only be enjoyed ironically.  As Jonathan Jones writes in his article for The Guardian, “They are paintings to show off at cocktail parties; paintings to decorate PR company offices:  paintings to snort coke in front of.”

22.  Paul McCarthy, Painter, 1995. This video performance piece mocks the modern myth of the painter as a great hero.  While I like that he uses humor to challenge bourgeoisie mores in his other work, notably their uncomfortably with sex, (his publicly displayed Christmas themed works bear an uncanny resemblance to butt-plugs), I did not care for how he turned the notion of modernist painting as something sacred into something to be ridiculed.  Without any sign of idealism, McCarthy’s critique and art becomes hollow, and the artist reduced to being nothing more than a nihilist clown.

23.  Chris Ofili – The Holy Virgin Mary, 1996.  Another shock for shock’s sake piece along the lines of Serrano’s Piss Christ, Ofili’s work pictures the Virgin Mary painted with elephant dung and collaged with pornographic elements.  I truly doubt Ofili’s sincerity when he said the work shouldn’t offend, that the work is only meant to be experienced aethetically.  If the work mocked Buddhism, Islam, or Judaism, however, I would hypothesize that the art world would not be so forgiving.  Ofili was also in another controversy in 2005.  While serving as a trustee on the board for the Tate Gallery, Ofili brokered the sale of his The Upper Room for over a million dollars to the gallery, all while the gallery presented itself as being in trouble and solicited, with Ofili’s help, donations of free work from other artists.  Notably, a collection of Stuckist work valued at over $500,000 dollars was rejected.

24.  Tracy Ermin – My Bed, 1998.  A disheveled bed, everyday bedroom objects and detritus, and condoms.  It is literally the artist’s bed moved into a gallery setting.  There is no commentary, no craft, and no concept, other than the artist’s own narcissism for her to assume that the mundane aspects of her personal life were of any interest to the public.

25.  Marco Evaristti, Ice Cube Project, 2004. Brought to you from the artist who created Helena, 2000 (the live goldfish in the blender) Ice Cube Project is Evaristti’s attempt to cover an iceberg off the coast of Greenland in red paint. Of the work he says,“We all have a need to decorate Mother Nature because it belongs to all us. This is my iceberg; it belongs to me.”  We are forced to decide whether the work is sacrilegious or ironic statement.  Even if one takes the statement ironically, and we read the work as a critique on environmental destruction, we are left with the artist’s actual work being hypocritical.

26.  Jacob Collins, Red Head, 2004.  A fine example of Classical Realism, Classical Realism seeks a return to classical ideals of beauty; it champions the production of art reminiscent of late 19th century Academic Salon work, although some elements of Impressionism have also been incorporated.  It is backward looking, idealism for the past without much concern for the future.  While it is possible to appreciate the skill that goes into producing such works and to admire the beautiful work that results, it does little to comment on contemporary culture.  It failed to do so in the late 19th Century and it fails to do so now.  Still, there are at least some things redeeming in the work; it is at least a loving quest to discover beauty, and there is something noble in that.

Red Head.jpg

27.  Martin Creed, Being Sick (Work No. 547), 2006.  There is nothing noble here.  Being Sick is a video loop of close ups of 19 different people vomiting. Creed won the Turner Prize in 2001 for Work No. 227, an empty room where the light goes on and off at five second intervals.  There is nothing here, no commentary or concept other than pure nihilism.

28.  Nathan Coley - There will be No Miracles Here, 2006.  A sad but challenging work, it is a large illuminated sign spelling out the phrase named in the title.  Ironically, the text piece depends on text in order to get to the concept.  The work refers to an obscure event that took place in the French town Modseine in the 17th century.  So many miracles were reported in the town that finally the message “there will be no more miracles here, by order of the King” was sent in order to keep things under control.  I would have preferred that the sign was meant to be a wake up call to artists, to produce in them the desire to once again make miracles, but this is not Coley’s M.O.  In interviews, Coley, like many other Post-modernists, seems a bit of a skeptic.  I believe we have to take the sign at face value and figure that Coley would believe that miracles in art are no longer possible.  There will be No Miracles Here won the Turner Prize in 2007.

29.  Aliza Shvarts – Untitled (Abortion Art), 2008. In 2008 Yale undergraduate gained fleeting prominence for a year long performance where she documented her repeated artificial inseminating of herself, and then repeated self-induced miscarriages.  She described her efforts in typical postmodernist opaque language: ‘This piece – in its textual and sculptural forms – is meant to call into question the relationship between form and function as they converge on the body. The artwork exists as the verbal narrative you see above, as an installation that will take place in Green Hall, as a time-based performance, as a [sic] independent concept, as a myth and as a public discourse . . . It creates an ambiguity that isolates the locus of ontology to an act of readership.’  Abortion ethics debate aside, Shvarts’ work naively makes light of the emotional difficulties that a woman would experience in the course of an induced or natural miscarriage.  There is nothing else naïve about the work, however.  It might be cynical of me, but I believe the work was nothing but a publicity stunt to jump-start her career in the arts.

30.  Pedro Campos - Hot Day III, 2008.  Hot Day III is an example of Hyperrealism, Photorealism’s more recent offshoot.  Most Hyperrealist work continues Photoralism’s tend of promoting the mundane and banal in art, although there is some hope in the work of artists such as Gottfried Helnwein.  Helnwein uses Hyperrealist technique to produce work that is both humanist and a social critique.  A decent example of his art can be seen in Downtown 20, 2002.

31.  Marni Kotak – The Birth of Baby X, 2011.  And I thought there was nothing more narcissistic than Tracey Ermin’s work.  In The Birth of Baby X, Kotak gives birth to a child in a gallery, re-contextualizing her life/art.  Before this, the artist often took events in her life and recreated them as art.  Ever since then, she has exploited her son, Ajax, as part of her ongoing performances of Raising Baby X

Animal Abuse in Art (and Its Defenders) by Chris Hall

Among many of the abuses of common sense and decency that Postmodern Conceptual Art has perpetrated, perhaps the most egregious is the tacit acceptance of animal abuse as art.  Although there is always a backlash from those outside of the art world, those inside the art world (its patrons, institutions, galleries, and museums) still offer support of those artists who have in the past or are currently directly engaged in the torture and killing of animals.  While many of these artists justify their art in terms of presenting a moral relativist argument, pointing out the hypocrisy of why we kill some animals and keep others as pets, or why we should find one act of violence shocking while we find other acts of perpetrated violence (war, poverty, crime, etc) acceptable, some of these artists don’t even attempt an explanation and are just deeply sick and cruel.  The following is a list of some of these artists who have crossed the line from art to animal abuse criminality.  

In 1977 American artist Tom Otterness rescued a dog from a shelter, only to document his shooting of it on a film entitled “Shot Dog Film.”  Unlike many other artists who traffic in animal abuse as art, Otterness has apologized, in 2008, when his pricey public sculpture commission was threatened.  

In 1988, Finnish artist Teemu Maki, recorded his killing of a cat that he rescued from a shelter which he entitled “Sex and Death.”  He killed the cat with small ax and then masturbated over it.  In 1990 Maki was fined the equivalent of $340 for fraud (he signed a document from the shelter promising to treat the cat well and not to harm it).  Maki has shown no remorse and has since become a success in the art world.  The Kiasma museum in Helsinki, in 2004, has even purchased the video for their collection.

teemu maki.jpeg

In 2000 Chilean artist Marco Evaristti had an installation titled “Helena and El Pescado” at Denmark’s Trapholt Modern Museum of Art.  “Helena and El Pescado” consisted of ten kitchen blenders filled with water and live goldfish.  Evaristti invited patrons to turn on the blender; one enthusiast did.  Evaristti recently had a retrospective of his work shown in Kolding, Denmark.

In 2001 Canadian artist Jesse Power, with the help of two other people, tortured and killed a cat.  They cut off an ear and removed an eye from the hanging cat, which was then skinned alive and disemboweled.  The whole thing was recorded as part of an art project.  In a video documenting the incident, 2004’s “Casuistry:  the Art of Killing a Cat,” two galley curators who had shown Power’s work previously, defended the artist, giving examples of other artists who used animal carcasses in avant-garde art.  At least in this case, the artist and collaborators spent some time in jail.  

In 2004, Dutch artist Katinka Simonse, aka Tinkerwell, snapped the neck of her pet cat Pinkeltjie in the name of art.  She skinned the cat and turned it into a purse and then justified her action by saying that the cat was depressed.  This work is not an aberration for Tinkerbell.  Her work frequently employs the torture of animals and then the mutilation of animal remains. 

In 2007 Costa Rican artist Guillermo Vargas Jimenez aka Habacuc captured a street dog, chained it up to a wall just out of reach of food, and (reportedly) starved it to death in a Nicaraguan art gallery.  In recognition for his contribution to art he was invited to participate, and recreate the incident at the Bienal Centroamericana Honduras in 2008.  Although the gallery director later said the whole thing was a hoax (the dog, he said, was feed and later escaped out the back door) not one of the gallery patrons expressed outrage, tried to help the dog, or notify the authorities about the perceived abuse. 

In 2012 Belgian artist Jan Fabre began throwing tranquillized cats up a set of stairs in order to hear them scream and smack into the ground.  This took place in Antwerp’s Town Hall for a documentary about himself. 

What is disturbing most to me is not that these monsters exist (there have always been monsters), but that these monsters are supported and subsidized by the established art elite, in the form of directors and curators in galleries and museums, and with government grants.  These artist monsters are only a small fraction of the Conceptual Art community, but the fact that they are accepted and defended in the "everything is permissible" world of art, where there is a conflation of art and real life (with real life consequences) is unacceptable to me.  I hope that the public backlash against animal abuse as art will eventually change the culture that defends the actions of these monsters.