Bad Art

A Boycott of Beauty Part Two by Chris Hall

Christopher Hall,  I Feel Pretty , 2007

Christopher Hall, I Feel Pretty, 2007

Illegitimi non carborundum (Don't let the bastards grind you down).

Per aspera ad astra (Through hardship, to the stars).

When I wrote the blog “A Boycott of Beauty” a few days ago, I was wondering what would happen to the world if all artists decided to make only Bad and Ugly Art.  I had thought that if artists were to fill the world with works such as Mana Lisa (a recent acquisition to Boston's Museum of Bad Art, by anonymous), the world would capitulate, beg for mercy, and treat artists with more respect.  But even works such as Mana Lisa provoke pleasure, as they are humorous.  For a "Boycott of Beauty" to really work, artists would have to make truly awful, nasty works of art.  The art would have to be brutish, cruel, cold, violent, and depraved.  They would have to be hateful, spiteful works.  They would have no redeeming value whatsoever . . . and I just don't think I have it in me to make that kind of art . . . I have too much heart in me.  

It is true that I do make a kind of Bad Art, particularly in my drawing practice.  But I temper the Badness with humor.  I have to do this for myself, first and foremost.  Humor is how I make sense of the world.  Humor helps me digest life's injustices and ugliness.  Humor helps with the pain.  And, if my art is meant to be critical, to educate and enlighten, humor helps the world digest its medicine, too.

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.  

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

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

Making Bad Art by Chris Hall

Paul Thek, Bread and Buttocks, 1979-1980

In August 1981, Paul Thek writes to Franz Deckwitz from New York: 
I am doing more newspaper ptgs, interesting, mind stopping, and super BRAT, but still I miss the good painting of Ponza, the eternal painting, while here in "civilization" I want only to do BAD painting, to shock and hurt them, I don't want to console them here etc etc but it hurts MY spirit ALWAYS to do the bad painting, so I miss Ponza and eternity.

With love I draw what I hate. Harold Town

Somehow over the years, I have become a more critical artist, loving to draw on the things I hate, and sometimes seeking to shock and produce Bad Painting.  I, too miss the eternal painting, on such themes as life, death, rebirth, all the things that make up the Great Mystery.  Is the creation of Bad Painting a critical response to the absurdities of modern life, or symptomatic of it?  I really don’t know anymore.  

Damn the city, damn “civilization.”  Philadelphia could sometimes be hard on the spirit.  New York would have killed it completely.  I hope Atlanta will be better.

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.

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. 


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. 


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

Postmodern International Art English Gibberish by Chris Hall

Noam Chomsky on Postmodernist language:   What I find is extremely pretentious, but on examination, a lot of it is simply illiterate . . .lots of statements that are trivial (though dressed up in complicated verbiage) or false; and a good deal of plain gibberish.  

Christopher Hitchens on Postmodern language:  The Postmodernists’ tyranny wears people down by boredom and semi-literate prose.  

Perhaps you don’t know what language I am referring to.  David Thompson, in his article Art Bollocks is Everywhere gives a great example in Carolyn Guertin’s essay, “Wanderlust:  The Kinesthetic Browser in Cyberfeminist Space.”

The shuffling and unfolding of the information of her body in sensory space is enacted across a gap or trajectory of subjecthood that is multiple and present.  Subjectivity is the lens and connector through which the spacio-temporal dislocation gets focused and bridged.  The gap is outside vision – felt not seen – and always existing on the threshold in between nodes.  Like the monster’s subjectivities, all knots in the matrix are linked.

In 1996 Physicist Alan Sokal submitted an essay entitled “Transgressing the Boundaries:  Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” to Social Text, an academic journal for Postmodern Cultural Studies, sponsored by Duke University.  The article was accepted.  Shortly afterwards Alan Sokal exposed the work as a hoax, an essay of buzzword filled gibberish.  “Nowhere in [the essay] is there anything resembling a logical sequence of thought; one finds only citations of authority, plays on words, strained analogies, and bald assertions.”

Why did he did he do it?  It wasn’t because he was right leaning critic of the left (Social Text states that its mission is to cover questions of gender, sexuality, race, and the environment).   No, Sokal believes that the left intellectual elite have gone off track:  

Why did I do it?  I confess that I’m an unabashed Old Leftist who never quite understood how deconstruction was supposed to help the working class.  And I’m a stodgy old scientist who believes, naively, that there exists an external world, that there exist objective truths about that world, and that my job is to discover them . . . Theorizing about ‘the social construction of reality’ won’t help us find an effective treatment for AIDS or devise strategies for preventing global warming.  Nor can we combat false ideas in history, sociology, economics and politics if we reject the notions of truth and falsity.

Chomsky also suggests that these writers are, as Nemo says on in a blog post entitled Chomsky on Postmodern Theory, “apolitical charlatans doing nothing to advance the cause of social justice.”  I would agree, but that is for another blog on another day.  Returning to the language, why has academia adopted such puffed up, pompous, impenetrable rhetoric? It is a linguistically meaningless jumble of buzzwords and critical posturing, borrowed from such French theorists as Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault (all champions of Postmodernism).  The writing is often obtuse, polysyllabic, and full of unnecessary and meaningless words.  Honestly, why use words like “horizontality” when “horizontal” will suffice.  Reading Postmodernist writing gives me a headache.  There is nothing pleasing in the language, nothing to attract me to the writing.  It is never clear or concise.  Perhaps the reason why academia uses such an opaque, pompous and suffocating language is insecurity.  Could it be that the humanities writers are insecure that their work has no meaning when faced against the sciences, who also use, necessarily, a jargon filled language, but to better effect?  Or is it an insecurity that they themselves are a fraud, and they must obfuscate their content with opaque and imposing language? After all, using a clear and transparent language would mean intellectual honesty and the risk of public correction. 

Academic Postmodern puffery has infiltrated the visual arts.  Perhaps the first person to call attention to this was Brian Ashbee who wrote an article for Art Review in 1999 entitled A Beginners Guide to Art Bollocks and How to be a Critic.  In it he muses: 

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Vision is primary, according to this view, and language secondary.  But not anymore – not, at least, in the visual arts, where the experience of the work of art is often meaningless without the critical text to support it.  This is especially true of much installation art, photography, conceptual art, video and other practices generally called post-modern . . . This is not art to be looked at; this is art to talk about and write about.  It doesn’t reward visual attention; it generates text.  In that, it is the model for much art since the ‘60’s, which we have come to call post-modern:  art as a machine for producing language.

In 2012 Alix Rule and David Levine coined the term International Art English to describe the language currently in vogue among Art Cognoscenti.  They cataloged and studied thousands of museum and gallery press releases and published their results in Triple Canopy.  “The language,” they write, “has everything to do with English, but it is emphatically not English.”

The problem is that what Brian Ashbee defines as post-modern art practices (with their baggage of bad language) has become institutionalized in both the art world and in academia.  In order to get ahead in the art world, and by extension, the academic world, one has to put on pretenses and use the default language of postmodern puffery (International Art English).  In Why Truth Matters, Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom write, “Theory’s near hegemony in literary and cultural studies has had various important consequences.  It has changed the way many subjects are taught, and the status of particular approaches.  This in turn has had an effect on faculty hiring and promotion, and in what gets published in journals and books, which naturally has changed the rules of what people need to do to succeed.” Brian Ashbee also posits that: 

We may be in a situation that mirrors that of the 19th century.  Most of the art that was deemed important then, which was exhibited in the annual salons and written about in the newspapers, is now forgotten.  The art which has proven historically significant was produced outside the system, in opposition to the academic establishment . . . Since the 1960’s, we have witnessed the complete institutionalization of the avant-garde.  Our major institutions are devoted to cutting-edge art.  Apart from a brief flurry of expressionist painting in the ‘80’s, most of this has been in the areas of conceptual art, photography, video and installation.  This is the work that people in power in our institutions deem significant.  It gets written about, funded, and shown.  It is the Official Art of our time.

I am in complete agreement with Brian Ashbee, with one exception.  I believe that those artists who work outside of postmodernist practices are the true inheritors of the avant-garde tradition.  These artists are the ones that challenge our institutions of accepted pedagogy. For all their pluralist posturing (we welcome all types of art practices and denounce all hierarchies) they do little to hide their contempt for traditional craft, which they deem passé and politically unsound.  For example, take Jake and Dinos Chapman, who during a 2003 debate for The Guardian with former London ICA Chairman Ivan Massow dropped this nugget:  "You see, in our most humble opinion, the overt fetishisation of pastoral handicrafts by the bourgeoisie served the purpose of obscuring the true relations of Capital . . . "  Masson, it should be noted, was encouraged to resign in 2002 for his critical stance against the Art World's obsession with Conceptual Art, further evidence that having an opinion on art outside the norm is detrimental for your career.

It is clear to me that the use of Postmodern and International Art Language is often used to prop up weak arguments and weaker art, but what can we do about it?  Perhaps we can choose to parody it and expose it for what it is, as Alan Sokal has done.  Perhaps we can write to our institutions and newspapers and demand more from our art.  The following are some interesting links that parody Postmodern and International Art Language.  You might get a good laugh out of them.  

Postmodern Essay Generator by Andrew C. Bulhak and Josh Lario:

Art Statement Generator by David James Ross and Joke de Winter:

Art Biography Generator by Jasper Rigole:

Instant Critique Generator by Petra Haschen.  Create your Critical Response to the Art Product – “CRAP” for short.  The website states, “Now you can produce CRAP critiques as easily and fluently as anyone in your MFA program!”:

As always, defending the right for all people to appreciate and understand art against Intellectual Elitism.

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. 

The Emperor Has No Clothes by Chris Hall

Recently I read about an artist who made invisible paintings.  I was at first rather pissed that an artist could become famous without any demonstration of actual talent or work.  This is the problem with most conceptual artwork; it relies solely on intellectual investigation, removes itself totally from aesthetic considerations, and thus becomes a mind without a body, or a heart.  But what if the whole thing is just a ruse, that maybe the artist doesn’t actually believe in all the bad theory.  Then I like the idea that an artist can fool, dare I say, con, rich idiots out of their not so hard earned money.  I think I might create some invisible art of my own.