Marcel Duchamp

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.

Jackson Pollock Part Two by Chris Hall

From Triumph to Tragedy

When the WPA closed in 1943, Pollock was forced to take work as a custodian for the Museum of Non-Objective Painting (later the Guggenheim Museum).  It was here that he met Peggy Guggenheim, who encouraged him to submit work to her gallery Art of This Century.  Pollock signed a gallery contract with Peggy Guggenheim in July 1943.  He received the commission to create Mural (1943), which measures roughly 8 feet tall by 20 feet long, for the entry to her new townhouse. At the suggestion of her friend and advisor Marcel Duchamp, Pollock painted the work on canvas, rather than the wall, so that it would be portable.  After seeing Mural, the art critic Clement Greenberg wrote: "I took one look at it and I thought, 'Now that's great art,' and I knew Jackson was the greatest painter this country had produced."  Mural would prove important in Pollock's transition from a style shaped by murals, Native American art, and European modernism towards his mature drip technique. 

“I want to express my feelings rather than illustrate them.”  Jackson Pollock.

In October 1945, Pollock married the American painter Lee Krasner.  In November they escaped from what Pollock called the “wear and tear” of New York City to the Springs area of East Hampton on the south shore of Long Island.  With the help of a down-payment loaned by Peggy Guggenheim, they bought a wood-frame house and barn at 830 Springs Fireplace Road.  Pollock converted the barn into a studio.  Life was almost idyllic for Pollock and Krasner at Springs.  Pollock expanded his family to include a dog, Gyp, and a crow, Caw-Caw.  He was also able to quit drinking for two years, 1949-50, and he became very productive.  For example, in 1945 he painted only 20 canvases, but in 1949, when he was on the wagon, he painted twice as many.  In 1950, his most productive year, he painted nearly 50.  

In the studio at Springs, Pollock perfected his big "drip" technique of working with paint, with which he would become permanently identified.  In the following years his style became more boldly abstract still, and he produced works like Shimmering Substance (1946).  The following year he finally hit on the idea of flinging and pouring paint, and thus found the means to create the light, airy and apparently endless webs of color that he was reaching towards.  Masterpieces such as Full Fathom Five (1947) were the result. 

Drip paintings (1947- 1950)

“New needs need new techniques.  And the modern artists have found new ways and new means of making their statements . . . the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture.”  Jackson Pollock.

The famous 'drip paintings' that he began to produce in the late 1940s represent one of the most original bodies of work of the century.  At times they could suggest the life-force in nature itself, at others they could evoke man's entrapment - in the body, in the anxious mind, and in the newly frightening modern world.  Sometimes Pollock's work suggests the obliteration of the figure, the shattered and fragmented self as the modern condition.  At other times it suggests a peaceful destruction, as inner bleeds into outer, the self exploding into the universe, where there is unity, harmony, and wholeness.

Pollock first tried the drip technique in 1936, in a New York experimental art workshop run by the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros.  He also knew about the Surrealists’ experiments with spontaneously applied paint, and used it himself off and on throughout the early to mid 1940s.  He later used paint pouring as one of several techniques on canvases of the early 1940s, such as Male and Female, Composition with Pouring I and Composition with Pouring II.  By 1947 he had perfected the technique of pouring, flinging and spattering liquid paint, and could control its flow to achieve the effects he was after. 

Pollock started using synthetic resin-based paints called alkyd enamels, which, at that time, was a novel medium.  Pollock described this use of household paints, instead of artist’s paints, as "a natural growth out of a need.”  He used hardened brushes, sticks, and even basting syringes as paint applicators.  Pollock's technique of pouring and dripping paint is thought to be one of the origins of the term “Action Painting.”  The term “Action Painting” was coined by American art critic Harold Rosenberg in 1952.  This style of painting focuses on art as a process rather than just a finished product.  The act of creation itself is the point and not just the painting alone.  By defying the convention of painting on an upright surface, Pollock added a new dimension by being able to view and apply paint to his canvases from all directions.  While painting this way, Pollock moved away from figurative representation and challenged the Western tradition of using easel and brush.  Pollock used the force of his whole body to paint, which was expressed on the large canvases.  In 1956, Time magazine dubbed Pollock "Jack the Dripper," due to his painting style.  

"My painting does not come from the easel. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.  I continue to get further away from the usual painter's tools such as easel, palette, brushes, etc. I prefer sticks, trowels, knives and dripping fluid paint or a heavy impasto with sand, broken glass or other foreign matter added.  When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of 'get acquainted' period that I see what I have been about. I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well."
—Jackson Pollock, My Painting, 1956

James Joyce describes his work Finnegans Wake as being a “chaosmos.”  I think this description would be applicable to Jackson Pollock's paintings of 1947 to 1950 as well.  His drip works have no hierarchical organization, no figure ground relationships, no focal point, no perspective.  Everything is obliterated, everything but the All.  Pollock's art making process seems to me like he is channeling the forces of nature while working in a Shaman's ritual trance state.  Flinging, dripping, pouring, and spattering, he would move energetically around the canvas, almost as if in a dance, and would not stop until he saw what he wanted to see.  Pollock observed American Indian sand painting demonstrations in the early 1940s.  Referring to his style of painting on the floor, Pollock stated, “I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk round it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.  This is akin to the methods of the Indian sand painters of the West.”   

While it was a mixture of controllable and uncontrollable factors, Pollock denied reliance on "the accident"; he usually had an idea of how he wanted a particular piece to appear. His technique combined the movement of his body, over which he had control, the viscous flow of paint, the force of gravity, and the absorption of paint into the canvas.  

In the 21st century, the physicists Richard Taylor, Adam Micolich and David Jonas studied Pollock's works and technique. They determined that some works display the properties of mathematical fractals although this could not be replicated by others.  They assert that the works expressed more fractal qualities as Pollock progressed in his career.  The authors speculate that Pollock may have had an intuition of the nature of chaotic motion, and tried to express mathematical chaos, more than ten years before "Chaos Theory" was proposed.  Their work was used in trying to evaluate the authenticity of some works that were represented as Pollock's. 

Pollock's most famous paintings were made during the "drip period" between 1947 and 1950.  He rocketed to fame following an August 8, 1949 four-page spread in Life magazine that asked, "Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?"  In 1950, he had a successful solo exhibition, and, along with Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning, was selected by MoMA director Alfred H. Barr, Jr., for the Venice Biennale.  Pollock also signed the open letter protesting The Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition American Painting Today – 1950, for its exclusion of Abstract Expressionist artists.  The 18 signers became known as “The Irascibles” and Life magazine published an article of the affair along with the now famous photograph of the group, which included artists Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, Adolph Gottlieb, and Robert Motherwell.

The Hans Namuth and Paul Falkenberg Film

In 1950, Pollock was at the pinnacle of his career, but by the end of the year he was drinking again.  In July 1950, Hans Namuth approached Pollock and asked to photograph the artist working in his studio.  Encouraged by his wife, Lee Krasner, who was aware of the importance of media coverage, Pollock agreed.  Not satisfied with black and white stills, Namuth wanted to create a color film that managed to focus on Pollock and his painting at the same time, partially because he found more interest in Pollock's image than in his art.  His solution was to have Pollock paint on a large sheet of glass as Namuth filmed from underneath the work.  As Namuth could not afford professional lighting, the film was shot outside Pollock's Long Island home.  This documentary (co-produced with Paul Falkenberg) is considered one of the most influential documentary films on an artist ever made. 

 

In November 1950, Namuth and Pollock's relationship came to an abrupt conclusion.  Jeffrey Potter, a close friend of Pollock's, described Namuth as commanding, frequently telling Pollock when to start and stop painting.  According to Potter, Pollock "felt what was happening was phony."  Namuth himself describes Pollock as being "very nervous and very self-conscious" of the filming at the time.  After coming in from the cold-weather shoot of the glass painting, Pollock, who had been in treatment since 1938 for alcoholism, poured himself a tumbler of bourbon whiskey after having been sober for two years.  An argument between Namuth and Pollock ensued with each calling the other a "phony,” culminating in Pollock overturning a table of food and dinnerware in front of several guests.  From then on, Pollock reverted to a more figure-oriented style of painting, leading some to say that Namuth's sessions robbed Pollock of his rawness.  Some have argued that Namuth made Pollock feel disingenuous about his drip technique, which he had previously done spontaneously, but in the film seemed coerced. 

During his time with Pollock, Hans Namuth had created two films and captured more than 500 photographs of the artist.  These photos have also allowed art historians to dissect the details of Pollock's method.  For example, art historian Pepe Karmel found that Pollock's painting in Namuth's first black-and-white film began with several careful drippings forming two humanoid figures and a wolf before being covered beneath several layers of paint. 

The Late Works (1951 - 1956)

“I'm very representational some of the time, and a little all of the time.  But when you're painting out of your unconscious, figures are bound to emerge.”  Jackson Pollock.

At the peak of his fame, Pollock abruptly abandoned the drip style.  After a brief period of producing dark, monochromatic works, he returned to using color and reintroduced figurative elements.  The new paintings were badly received when Pollock first exhibited them, but he continued to work on them right through 1953, his last productive year of work.  During this period, Peggy Guggenheim moved to Venice and Pollock's gallery, Art of This Century had closed.  Gallery owner Betty Parsons had taken over his contract.  There was great demand for his work from collectors, but critics were giving him bad reviews for returning to more figurative art.  In response to this pressure, along with personal frustration, his alcoholism deepened.   

His personal troubles only increased in his later years.  He left Betty Parsons Gallery, and, as his reputation preceded him, he struggled to find another gallery.  He painted little in 1954, claiming that he had nothing left to say.  In 1955, Pollock painted Scent and Search, his last two paintings.  He did not paint at all in 1956, but was making sculptures at Tony Smith’s home: constructions of wire, gauze, and plaster.  Shaped by sand-casting, they have heavily textured surfaces similar to what Pollock often created in his paintings.  In the summer of 1956, Krasner took a trip to Europe to get some distance from Pollock, and soon after the painter began a relationship with 25 year old art-star groupie Ruth Kligman, who he had met at the Cedar Bar.  On August 11, 1956, at 10:15 pm, Pollock, age 44, died in a single-car crash in his green 1950 Oldsmobile convertible while driving under the influence of alcohol.  Pollock lost control of the car on a curve and he plunged into the woods at 60 or 70 miles an hour.  One of the passengers, Edith Metzger, was also killed in the accident, which occurred less than a mile from Pollock's home.  The other passenger, Ruth Kligman, miraculously survived. 

For the rest of her life, Pollock's widow Lee Krasner managed his estate and ensured that Pollock's reputation remained strong despite changing art world trends.  Lee Krasner died in 1984.  They are buried in Green River Cemetery in Springs with a large boulder marking his grave and a smaller one marking hers. 

Montparnasse by Chris Hall

Moise Kisling, Paquerette, and Pablo Picasso at Cafe la Rotonde, 1916.  Photo by Jean Cocteau.

Moise Kisling, Paquerette, and Pablo Picasso at Cafe la Rotonde, 1916.  Photo by Jean Cocteau.

"I aspired to see with my own eyes what I had heard of from so far away:  this revolution of the eye, this rotation of colours, which spontaneously and astutely merge with one another in a flow of conceived lines.  That could not be seen in my town.  The sun of Art then shone only on Paris."  Marc Chagall

Montparnasse is an area of Paris, France, on the left bank of the river Seine.  During the 1920's and 1930's, is was widely considered to be the intellectual and artistic capital of Europe, if not the world.  Staring in about 1910, artists began to migrate to Paris in order to participate in Paris' art scene, which was then centered in the Montmarte district (home to  Emile Zola, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, the Impressionists, and the 19th century avante-garde).  Finding the area gentrified, filled with Dandyism (the 19th century version of Hipsterism), and too expensive to live in, they began to move to Montparnasse.  Montparnasse was a gritty, socially downtrodden area of Paris, filled with tough talking immigrants.  Penniless painters, sculptures, writers, poets, and composers converged on the area for its cheap rent.  They often lived without heat and running water, selling their work for a few francs just to buy food.  They came from around the globe, converging on the City of Lights like moths to a flame, from Europe, including Russia and Ukraine, from the United States, Canada, and Mexico, Central and South America, and as far away as Japan.  Notable residents included Pablo Picasso, Guillaume Apollinaire, Erik Satie, Marc Chagall, Nina Hamnett, Max Jacob, Chaim Soutine, Georges Braque, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Amedeo Modigliani, Ezra Pound, Max Ernst, Wassily Kandinsky, Marcel Duchamp, Suzanne Duchamp-Crotti, Moise Kisling, Jean Cocteau, Henri Rousseau, Constantin Brancusi, Isamu Noguchi, Stuart Davis, Alexander Calder, Juan Gris, Diego Rivera, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Tsuguharu Foujita, Marie Vassilieff, Alberto Giacometti, Andre Breton, Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Pascin, Henri Matisse, Gertrude Stein, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Samuel Beckett, Joan Miro, and Hilaire Hiler.

By the 1920's and 1930's, Montparnasse was a thriving artist community and the heart of intellectual life in Paris.  This time, known as les Années Folles (the Crazy Years), almost rivaled Weimar Berlin's culture of excess and depravity.  Max Jacob said he came to Montparnasse to “sin disgracefully.”  The cafes and bars of Montparnasse were meeting places where new ideas were hatched.  It was a fertile crucible for the early Modern avante-garde movements.  During les  Années Folles, starving artists could occupy a tale all evening in one of Montparnasse's cafes and bars for only a little money.  If they fell asleep, the waiters were often instructed not to wake them up.  Arguments fueled by intellect and alcohol were common, and the police were rarely summoned.  If an artist couldn't pay a bill, some people, such as La Rotonde's proprietor, Victor Libion, would accept a drawing as collateral, holding it until the artist could pay.  There were times where the walls of the cafes were littered with art that make curators of today's great museums drool with envy.  But the good times could not last forever.  By the eve of World War II, most of Montparnasse's artists and intellectual's fled the country, many of them resettling in New York City, in the United States.  Montparnasse never regained its former glory.  Since that time, New York has been, arguably, the cultural capital of the world.

John Heartfield Versus Hitler by Chris Hall

John Heartfield's  Adolf Hitler the Superman Swallows Gold and Shits Tin , 1932.

John Heartfield's Adolf Hitler the Superman Swallows Gold and Shits Tin, 1932.

Born Helmut Herzfeld on 19 June, 1891, he anglicized his name to John Heartfield to protest the growing anti-British sentiment and rampant German nationalism during the First World War.  Heartfield was a pioneer in the use of art as a political weapon in the 1920's and 1930's particularly against the rise of Hitler and the Nazis.  

Heartfield was a photomontage artist.  Heartfield would create his photomontages by cutting and pasting parts from several photographs (either ones he took himself, commissioned, or found), and then re-photographed the result to produce a single seamless image.  

Heartfield was declared unfit for duty during the First World War by feigning mental illness.  In 1917 he founded Berlin Club Dada, which quickly became the most politically engaged Dada chapter in the movement.  In 1918 Heartfield joined the German Communist Party.  During the 1920's , Heartfield came to conclusion that the only art worth producing was to be of a political nature, and he destroyed all of his earlier work.  

Together with fellow artist George Grosz, Heartfield founded the satirical magazine Die Pleite (The Bankrupt).  Heartfield also produced images for the daily paper Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag), and the weekly paper Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (AIZ, Worker's Illustrated Newspaper).  AIZ was particularly supportive of Heartfield's work, publishing some 230 of his images, with more than half of them appearing on the front or back cover.  

Heartfield's work was also reproduced on many dust jackets for books, including Upton Sinclair's The Millennium, and on the many political posters that plastered the streets of Berlin at the time.  Heartfield also designed and built theatrical sets for Erwin Piscator and Bertolt Brecht.

John Heartfield lived in Berlin until April 1933, when the Nazis took power.  On Good Friday, the SS broke into his apartment, and Heartfield escaped by jumping from his balcony.  He fled Germany by walking over the Sudeten Mountains into Czechoslovakia, where he continued making work denouncing the Nazis.  In 1938, he was forced to flee the Nazis again, during the occupation of Czechoslovakia, this time taking refuge in London, England.  

Following the war, Heartfield settled in East Berlin, East Germany.  He was looking for his Communist paradise, but did not find it.  Instead, the Stasi (East German Secret Police) treated Heartfield with suspicion, due to his lengthy stay in London and the fact that his dentist was being investigated for “collaboration.” Heartfield could not find work as an artist, was denied admission into the Academy of Arts, and was denied health benefits.  Eventually, with the assistance of Bertolt Brecht and Stefan Heym, he was finally accepted into the East German art community.  Heartfield produced some art warning of the threat of nuclear war, but he was never as prolific as he was during the 1920's and 1930's.  

Some Notes on Dada and Anti-Art

Dada and anti-art are often thought to be the same thing, and while they are thickly entwined, they are really two different things.  Dada was an art movement in the early 20th century, anti-art is an art process and product used and found in many different art movements, up to our present day post-modern art production.

Dada was born with the outbreak of the First World War.  For many of the artists, particularly in Berlin, Dada was a protest against the war, and against the bourgeois, nationalist, and colonialist interests responsible for it.  Dada was viewed as a revolt against cultural and intellectual conformity in art and society at large.  `

While some artists interpreted Dada as a celebration of meaninglessness and nihilism (Duchamp and his anti-art), many, like John Heartfield, used Dada to promote political change.  Dada does not mean an abandoning of all culture and aesthetics, only traditional culture and aesthetics.  If traditional art and culture was meant to appeal to our sensibilities, Dada was intended to offend.  But offensive art can be a useful tool to reshape our cultural landscape.  Anti-art, however, rejects even usefulness.

Anti-art rejects everything and abandons all aesthetic considerations.  Anti-art practitioners believe that bourgeois and capitalist “reason' and “logic” is the root cause of society's ills, and so they champion nihilist attitudes, embrace chaos, chance, and irrationality, destroying all culture and civilization in the process.  Dada nihilist artist Tristan Tzara once said, “I am against systems; the most acceptable system is on principle to have none.”  

Nihilism, at best, is a sign of resignation, apathy, or giving up.  At worst it is a barbarian's approach, wantonly destroying all aesthetic and cultural view points in its path.  I believe a lot things need to be dismantled and destroyed, but not everything.  Nihilists are usually poor students of history.  I believe there is much to be mined from the past, things that can guide us in terms of what we can reuse and reinterpret, but also things that we can avoid.  Nihilists usually have tunnel vision as well, and fail to see that some things in our present culture are also worth saving.  Instead of being selective and focusing on the small problems, individually, they would rather burn down the whole house and start from the beginning. 

Dada has always been a love/hate affair for me, as so many of its practitioners were nihilist anti-artists, like Duchamp.  I can not support the nihilist position nor can I support the production of anti-art.  I do not believe that everything is meaningless.  I have not lost my ideals and believe with hard work and cooperation, there is a small chance that we might just be able to make the world a better place.

John Heartfield was a Dada artist, but not an anti-artist.  He believed in something and had ideals, something he thought so highly of that he risked his life defying Hitler for it.  Marcel Duchamp the anti-artist did not.  John Heartfield, while he may have abandoned traditional aesthetics, he did not abandon aesthetics completely.  This is why Heartfield's art could so effectively carry his strong anti-Nazi message, why his work was deemed worth saving and not thrown away like a makeshift protest sign constructed out of poster-board and magic-marker, and why we are able to appreciate his work in museums today.

Recovering Beuys: Artist, Activist, Shaman, Teacher by Chris Hall

Zeige Deine Wunde - Show your wound.  Joseph Beuys

And when I say: “Show it! Show the wound that we have inflicted upon ourselves during the course of our development”, it is because the only way to progress and become aware of it is to show it.  Joseph Beuys  

Image from I like America and America Likes Me, 1974

The Origin Myth

Joseph Beuys remains a controversial figure to this day, nearly 30 years since his death.  Despite being on the vanguard of conceptual and performance art, the hard-core Post-modernists don’t want him because of his enigmatic myth making and his refusal to give up and become a pessimist and skeptic.  Beuys was in line with the artist as hero rhetoric of his Modernist predecessors and since Post-modernists like Benjamin Buchloh won’t claim him, I think I will take him for one of my own team.

As a young man Beuys was fascinated by animals and studied medicine.  But soon afterwards the Second World War broke out and in 1941 Beuys volunteered for the Luftwaffe where he trained as a radio operator and gunner for the Ju-87 Stuka dive-bomber.  But on 16 March, 1944, at the age of 22, something significant would happen that would alter the course of his life forever.  While flying a mission over the Crimea he was shot out of the sky, the plane crashing into the snow.  The pilot was instantly killed, but somehow Beuys survived.  According to Beuys, he was pulled unconscious from the wreckage by a group of nomadic Tatars, who then warmed his frozen body and cared for his wounds by wrapping him in animal fat and felt blankets.  The Tartars took him in as one of their own until Beuys was well enough to make his way back to German field hospital.  Later, returning home, Beuys fell into a deep depression.  It was in this state that Beuys begin to feel himself transformed.  He found help through making art in the form of drawings which at this time he produced in the thousands, and he began his fascination with Shamanism and healing.  Drawing would later remain a big part of his practice and teaching philosophy, even as his own work grew more conceptual and he began to make performance art.   

It is for certain that Beuys did crash in the Crimea, that is in the record, but as for the rest, his Shamanic initiation with the Tatars and the transformation through depression, that can not be substantiated.  It has led some skeptics such as Buchloh to believe that Beuys made the whole thing up in order to create a legend or myth about himself.  However, I am inclined to believe Beuys story, as I, too, have gone through a bit of a transformation myself when I was 19, when I had my first black, howling, soul shattering depression and my own Shamanic initiation dream.  But irregardless of whether it all happened as Beuys described it or not, the story still informs his art, and the subsequent art is more important than the origin story.

After recovering from his wounds and depression, Beuys saw that Germany, too, was sick and wounded, and was also in need of healing.  Beuys viewed his art as a healing tool, and viewed himself as an artist, healer, and teacher.  He sought to bring mystical truths to the people and genuinely sought to make the world a better place through art, politics, and education.  

Beuys the Activist, Beuys the Educator:  a Misunderstanding of Intent.

As a political activist he was one of the founding members of Germany’s environmentalist Green Party.  Beuys would also run for a seat in Parliament, unsuccessfully.  Beuys’ merger of politics and aesthetics, plus his messianic myth making character, lead some people to distrust him and become skeptical of his intentions.  Despite Beuys democratic rhetoric, some viewed him as a totalitarian in disguise, reminiscent of Hitler.

To make people free is the aim of art.  Therefore art for me is the science of freedom.  Joseph Beuys  

Even today Beuys remains a controversial figure.  In a recent biography, Hans Peter Riegel writes, “Beuys was one of the first members of Germany’s environmentalist Green Party, and he spoke a great deal about democracy. Ultimately, however, the artist strove for a totalitarian society …” This assertion is made only because of Beuys willingness to be vocal about his politics through his art, and his supposed, tenuous connections with former Nazis (while this is in character for the messianic Beuys, to heal the wounded sinner, I might also argue that everyone among his peers would have been guilty, at least by association, in Post War Germany; to say otherwise would be completely naive).

Photograph from a performance at the Technical College Aachen, in 1964.  The performance was part of a festival of new art coinciding with the 20th anniversary of an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler.  The performance was interrupted by a group of students, one of whom attacked Beuys, punching him in the face. 

As an educator he taught at the university, where he was very popular with is students, but when the university fired him because of his unorthodox teachings, he founded his own university.   Despite being a conceptualist and a practitioner of performance art, Beuys was deeply invested in the power of aesthetics and would require that his students take drawing classes.  Beuys was often outspoken about his criticism of Duchamp for removing aesthetics from art.  Unfortunately for Beuys, who was politically active, the connection between aesthetics and politics was one of the major defining characteristics of Fascism.  This, of course, led many people to distrust him and misunderstand his intentions.

The esthetic conservatism of Beuys is logically complemented by his politically retrograde, not to say reactionary, attitudes. Both are inscribed into a seemingly progressive and radical humanitarian program of esthetic and social evolution. The abstract universality of Beuys’ vision has its equivalent in the privatistic and deepy subjective nature of his actual work. Any attempt on his side to join the two aspects results in curious sectarianism. The roots of Beuys’ dilemma lie in the misconception that politics could become a matter of esthetics …  Benjamin Buchloh  

So when I appear as a kind of shamanistic figure, or allude to it, I do it to stress my belief in other priorities and the need to come up with a completely different plan for working with substances. For instance, in places like universities, where everyone speaks so rationally, it is necessary for a kind of enchanter to appear.  Joseph Beuys

To be a teacher is my greatest work of art.  The rest is a waste product, a demonstration.
Joseph Beuys

Beuys the Artist, Beuys the Healer:  Two Significant Performances

How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, 1965.  

It was made “when he was almost entirely unknown. Visitors could view Beuys through a window, where they found him sitting and cradling a dead hare in his arms. The artist’s face was covered in the symbolic substances of honey and gold leaf, and his boot was weighed down with an iron slab. He mumbled barely audible noises into the ear of the inert animal, as well as explanations of his drawings hanging behind them. This action, both strangely hilarious and moving, puts us in mind of the impossibility of teaching, the skepticism of listeners, indeed the deaf ears of most of those we ask to listen. It speaks to the difficulty of making one’s work known in the world and the possibility of an unexpected transcendence of these limits.”  (Italicize mine, from Outsiders:  The Art of Joseph Beuys by Tim Segar for Potash Hill).  

I Like America and America Likes Me, 1974. 


For this performance Beuys flew to New York City and was taken to a room in a gallery on West Broadway. He “was transported by ambulance, lying on a stretcher and wrapped in felt. For three days, the artist shared the room with a wild coyote. Some of the time he stood leaning on a shepherd’s staff, swathed in his felt blanket. Other times he lay on a bed of straw and watched the coyote. The coyote watched him, circled him, and shredded his blanket to pieces. The artist did things like striking a large triangle, drawing lines on the floor, and other mysterious gestures . . . After three days, the coyote had grown quite tolerant of Beuys. The artist hugged him and returned to the airport in an ambulance, leaving without having set foot on American soil . . . A bit of context to remember is that the Vietnam War was in its last year when this piece was made, President Nixon was on the verge of resigning the presidency, and the international community had been looking askance at the United States for quite some time . . . In both works, Beuys is acting on our behalf both humorously—mocking our attempts to interact with the world—and shamanically—conjuring hidden languages with which to cross the boundaries of death, species, language, and cultural divides.”  (From Outsiders:  The Art of Joseph Beuys by Tim Segar for Potash Hill).  

Coda:


This is what Beuys tries to do: only through showing the wound – the pain and suffering caused by the past – and through repeatedly reliving these traumatic events can some form of coping take place and can one leave the past behind. Beuys pushes where it hurts and shows in which ways one can cope with a problematic past.  From Joseph Beuys and the German Trauma by Lisa VanHaeren.

Beuys fought against skepticism and doubt.  Through his art he sought to do well by both people and the environment, healing the rift between mankind and nature (in 1982 with the help of volunteers he planted 7,000 Oak trees in Kassel, Germany).  And yet many of his critics remained skeptical, if not suspicious of his work.  His ardor and artistic and political idealism tended to turn off and frighten people.  Beuys critics fall into two camps:  one group, represented by critic Stefan Germer, believed that art did not have the power to initiate political change; they were filled with skepticism and doubt, and viewed Beuys as a deluded fool.  The other group, represented  by critics such as Benjamin Buchloh, believed (in light of Fascism) that art and politics were a dangerous combination, and that aesthetics should not serve as a vehicle to effect political change; Buchloh and others were suspicious of Beuys and sought out ulterior motives in his politics.  Despite the harsh criticism, Beuys did not give up, he continued his work; he truly believed in his mission and in the power of art to change things for the better.  Beuys’ artistic altruism, his generosity, his dedication to his mission as an artist, his championing of artistic and political idealism, and most of all, his refusal to give up, these are all worthy and admirable qualities.  There should be more artists like Joseph Beuys.  

Drawings by Joseph Beuys

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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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