Art Letter


One of the things I like so much about the art world is the absence of rules.  And simultaneously that seems to be one of its problems.

A look at the
Emerging Artists discussion on the Art Letter Bulletin Board shows a conversation about "edgy and emerging" and corresponding position-taking about whether young, mid-career or seasoned artists or most worth looking at or acquiring.

I guess since there are no rules many feel the need to take a side. 

Somehow I look at it differently.  If there are no rules, everyone can be right. Argumentatively, your aesthetic is as good as mine, your opinion is as good as mine, and whatever involvement you have in the art world, for whatever reason is just as good as mine.

Personally, I like it that way. 

Ultimately it is about agreement.

When I had a gallery, when I would look at an artist's slides or digital images, it would not be a judgment of whether the work was good.  That's too finite, too small. Of course, I would say to myself, and maybe even aloud "This is good. This isn't," but what I meant was "I like this. I agree with this, or I don't."

This is really what is going on when I (or you) walk into a gallery: How do I respond?  It should be about the aesthetic experience of The viewer.  Ultimately my opinion is irrelevant to you.  There is no Truth.  There are many truths. There is no right or wrong.  This is not like diving where degree of difficulty and execution are rigid scales, and evaluation can be learned and formulated.

Art isn't like that. You as an artist can live and breathe art 22 hours a day or 3 hours a months, you are both artists, albeit with a different commitment.  You as a collector can like paintings of petunias or paintings worth 6 digits, you are both collectors.

So when I go to a gallery and I look at a work of art, I am looking for me.  Not you. Not them. (Unless I'm going to the gallery to buy something for someone else - but that's another story.)

Then there's the problem of art criticism. There's some assumption that a good art critic, like a good baseball coach can advise a hitter to lower his elbow a tad, and he'll connect more often. But the critic can't say "add a little red to every right hand corner and you'll do oh, so much better."

Heck, we don't even know what the scale is?  Sales?  Museums? Critical attention?  Shees, some of these are antithetical.

Art has lots of purposes and what it communicates is as much up to the viewer as it is up to the artist.  What I like in art, you may hate. That's okay.

I went to several galleries yesterday. First one I went to was
Flatfile. They've just moved to a new location at 217 North Carpenter. I think the location is great and the space is great.  Maybe I'm just a sucker for the smell of fresh paint (likely related to the word vernissage), but this place is fresh.  It also feels confident and brave. The gallery is a block or two off recently beaten path.  Its location speaks of independence. I like that. The feeling is reinforced by a large darkened project room given over to a single work by Claire Beaulieu.  I don't think the work is saleable - it is a suspended glow-in the-dark oversized detail of a genetic code, but who knows. (As I think I've made clear, my taste is just mine.)

I liked that this piece was just there. It said a lot. It said they had enough space that they could dedicate some (a bunch) to a piece that was unsaleable.  It said that sales were not the only criteria.  That's good.

I left the West Loop and headed over to
Perimeter Gallery in River North.  These are some of my favorite people in the art world. I've known Frank Polach since he was a whippersnapper and he has been the director just about that long. Honest and savvy, they present some great exhibits.  And as much as I am a sucker for things Chinese this show by the Zhou Brothers is not one of them.  They make competent abstract paintings that feel like high-decorator to me, just plain void of emotion, feeling, or meaning. The Zhou Brothers themselves are fascinating individuals working together as a team with a great studio space.  And a lot of people like their work.

From previous letters we know that I like
William Conger's work on view at Roy Boyd Gallery.  Roy tells me it's been there since November but his is the first time I've noticed the new hardwood floor (which replaced the tired carpeting) and it looks great. The room feels more expansive, giving Conger's paintings more space to breathe and they reciprocate

The exhibits at
Zolla/Lieberman Gallery left me torn. Most of the space was dedicated to a full, photography exhibit. I'd heard that it was overhung and went expecting to see a mess. But I didn't. I saw an attractively installed show.  The lights, the darks, the big, the large, all balanced - really well. I guess that was exactly the problem for me.  I can't remember one single photo in the show.  There we so many I don't think I really looked at any.  And I was more taken with a seven by ten foot drawing of Jim Lutes' that was splayed across the floor. The general consensus was that it is an albatross. The reality is that it is damned compromising to give up a whole wall to something that has no likelihood of selling.  (I'm reproducing about a 3 x 4 foot section of this special piece.) I loved the swirls, the dialog between shapes, the iconographic Lutes forms, the shifting scale, the directness, subtlety and sureness.  It's a great piece, especially if you have a weakness for out-of-scale drawings, like I do. And on one hand I hope it doesn't get included in the show because I think I can talk Jim into letting me store it for him (on my living room wall).


Also nicely installed at Zolla/Lieberman was an excellent sculpture show with vertical pieces on view as you walk in and 3 lower lying pieces in a smaller room.  In this grouping is a small sculpture / large maquette by Josh Garber that he submitted and won a substantial commission for downtown Cincinnati.  (You recall that I used to represent Josh.)

The installation of Peter Stanfield's wall pieces was fine, but it felt so tertiary being shuttled off to a side room / office.  Peter's work is formal and fun, a tad self conscious in a pleasantly disarming way. Framed within brushed aluminum armatures, mad-scientist's light bulbs and vials of off-colored fluids, Stanfield's snippets from probably non-existent short stories are warm and completely balance the starkness of the presentation. I like the ambiguity and the arena it creates for me to wonder around in.

Oh my, but I have rambled. Oh well. The point remains that it's up to each of us. We are each responsible for what we see and how we respond.  You will not be graded. I can guide and you can agree or disagree - that's okay. There is lots out there to see this weekend - not many openings, but lots of good exhibits.

Paul Klein