Art Letter

February 2007 Archives


I didn't think that what I wrote in my last ArtLetter was sufficiently controversial to warrant the amount of brouhaha it generated.  So, I 'll continue.

I buy into a forward thinking view of economics and cultural development. Think of the internet model(s).  I see Google attain astronomic value by being free, by the broadbase distribution of a desirable commodity - in this case information.  

When I apply this thinking to the artworld I see that it is arcane, old-fashioned and top heavy. The artworld does not benefit from its exclusivity, superciliousness, pomposity or hyperbole. The artworld is becoming more insulting, remote and ridiculed.

It could be doing precisely the opposite.  Making art accessible to broader audiences. Making more art available for less.  And most importantly allowing more people to benefit from the good things that art can do for ones' spirit, consciousness and cultural awareness.

It is not the artists who are at fault (much - they do need to be more responsible about their careers and not just the next work of art).  It is the fault of the marketplace; the ease with which it can be manipulated and how ostentatiously one can display their acquisitions - if not taste.

I cannot avoid comparing the ludicrous prices being paid for art in New York or London to the quality available for a relative pittance in regional centers like Berlin, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Thomas Friedman says the earth is flat. Well I say, let's put some bumps on it - no, not build a wall around ourselves, but let's acknowledge there's a reason we live here or in LA or Tucomcari. Let's support our community. Let's learn about it. And let's give back. Make it better for our neighbor and the artist who lives across the street.

Provincial - not very. Create your own community. Grow it from right here (wherever that is for you) and export it, take it global. You community can be three people on three different continents, or three people on your block.  What brings you together? Develop it. Get it out there. Promote - Reap.

Chicago happens to be ripe for promoting itself. There is an undervalued community of artists here making very high caliber art, on a global standard.  Artists are beginning to coalesce.  And some are resistant. There was an "enlightening" discussion on
Erik Wenzel's Art or Idiocy blogsite discussing my last ArtLetter.  After scores of posts, he removed it. I thought the discussion was valuable although periodically banal. I repost it for your consideration.

Two leaders of their communities have exhibitions opening in Chicago tonight.  I have known Chicago's
William Conger and LA's Tony Berlant for decades.  They are at the peak of their artistic oeuvres and we see growth with each subsequent exhibition. They have earned our support.  This isn't about speculation. This is about proof. This is quality - on a museum level. This about being flashy and new.  It is about being genuine and substantive.

William Conger remains young and constructive and he's been making art in Chicago for damned near half a century. There's a hybrid abstraction in his paintings that reveals the Chicago landscape and its history. Conger's lived the Chicago of Nelson Algren and Richard the 1st. He's seen the stockyards, the steel mills, the urban waterways, the vast lake, a city and it's people pressed up against that lake, the edge and the work ethic that is Chicago. And that's what his paintings are full of; the history, the present, the future, an intelligent, optimistic palette and a few unique painterly devices.  There's a lot here to absorb and decipher. Though readily accessible, they reveal themselves over years. And that's what makes a painting special.

Tony Berlant is like a William Conger painting. He is readily accessible.  He is intelligent He is generous. And he reveals himself over decades. And like many artists, who he is, is what his paintings are.  Raised in LA, he's been fascinated with the Southwest ever since he used to tag along on his parent's numerous archeological sojourns, where instead of focusing on the rocks he thought he was collecting, he was actually acquiring quite a few Navajo blankets (one of which he later gave to de Kooning for a painting). I think Tony is intrigued by intricate systems. Like a woven blanket, and Mimbres Poetry (he became a world class authority on prehistoric Native American art, has published higher revered books on the subject and authenticates work and consuls collectors.)  And like the intricacy of his artwork, with tons of cut-out pieces of tin, arduously nailed to a wood panel. Flowing patterns and again layers of content.  From our fascination with technique, to the beauty, to the meaning. Berlant is "an artist for the ages."

It is great to see
Bucket Rider move up to a bigger, brighter newly renovated space around the corner from where they were. It's strong affirmation of their program. They open tomorrow afternoon and evening with a group show of their artists.  Bravo.

An example of the differences and similarities of divergent, yet flatworld cultures is evident in
Julie Walsh's group show of emerging Korean artists. It is easy to see  interests shared with recent graduates from our art schools. And it isn't hard to see the influence of different cultural, ethnic societies.  I can remember about 20 years ago when ceramic artist Tony Hepburn went to do a several day workshop in Seoul. On the first day he discussed technique and all the Korean students quietly observed. The second day he said they were going to discuss "content." Every hand in the room shot up in unison as they asked, "what is content?"

Yup, the world is a changing place.  Shape it the way you want it.

Paul Klein


We all agree.  I've written about the pomposity of the art world as evidenced by the Miami Basel Art Fair. The progenitors of Bad at Sports have been talking about the proliferation of shitty drawing for months, and Sharkforum's Wesley Kimler has been a one-man torch accosting the crap that is fetching record sums in New York City. Add Jed Perl's fine New Republic missive (available online through the Sharkforum website) and it is beginning to look like a movement.

Maybe I've been too nice, encouraging you to go see art that expands your horizons, discussing what turns me on in a work of art, and how there are things I find emotionally, intellectually and aesthetically stimulating. Obviously there are many who are not getting the message.

There's an awful lot of very bad art that people are paying obscene amounts of money for. No one in the right mind could possibly conclude that a 3 year old painting by
Lisa Yuskavage is worth One Million Dollars.  Here. Try this.  Compare the Yuskavage to Chicagoan Mary Lou Zelazny, whose similar sized painting will cost you under $10,000.  Of course Zelazny's painting is better, and it is 100 times cheaper. (Feel free to substitute your locale for mine.)

Look at drekmaster
John Currin, the whipping boy and proselytizer of tasteless horribly executed sleaze. Half a million bucks for for a three foot tall bad painting titled The Kennedys. The biggest insult is reserved for the person who bought it, who could have purchased a dozen far superior paintings by Chicago's Jim Lutes and had change left over.

One of my favorite local dealers has two incisive adages. 1. "Money doesn't care who owns it." And 2. "Money doesn't buy taste." Pretty right on, obvious, true, and unfortunately pathetic and getting worse.

The artworld at large is getting shallower by the day. Even some Chicago dealers - a very few - are following suit. Dammit people. Let's stand for something.  Let's stand for quality. Let's give serious thought to what a genuine art experience is about.

I've spoken about the meaning and joy of art for years. Art should be stimulating. It is simply a visceral, gut, emotional experience (informed by education and experience).  It is NOT about making money, or about obscene prices.  It is about being challenged personally and the ensuing personal growth. It is about finding an image that resonates with one's heart.  Heck, it can have lots of purposes, but each and every one flow from the singular relationship of one person - the viewer / owner - to the work of art - back and forth.

It doesn't have a single solitary thing to do with how much it costs, who you impress with your purchase or anything to do with what you expect to be able to resell it for later.

If you purchase a painting with the notion of making a profit on it, you are buying something with someone's else's taste in mind. How in the world is that going to generate any growth in you? It doesn't even take "you" into consideration. It is all about them.  How very stupid.

Why take a work of art, even if it is as insipid as a Currin or a Yuskavage and strip it of its dignity and assign it all the aesthetic meaning of a stock certificate?

Ridiculous, insulting, self-effacing, meaningless, shallow and so very foolish Whose taste do these buffoons buy with? Do they follow their own aesthetic lead in making an acquisition, which is by far the best way to proceed? Or do they hire an art consultant who has no way of knowing what this person's tastes or aesthetic stature is (without spending years getting to know them.) Or perhaps seek counsel from a museum curator, who certainly wouldn't have a hidden agenda (cough, cough).  I repeat. How are these theoretically more educated individuals, who know less about you than your dog, going to assist you in having an aesthetic experience that generates personal growth for you?  You got it!  They aren't.

They'd enable you to have an ever so pleasant art collection that may even show  a profit, that a few equally shallow friends are going to be impressed by, and you aren't going to learn anything of meaning - nothing to enhance your life.  What a missed opportunity.

Art can do so much good. For the individual.  For the community. For the artist. In the past 12 months or so I have purchased 21 works of art by Chicago Artists. I have probably spent around $25,000 to $30,000 on these pieces. I have a kick ass collection.  I have art that means something to us. We love the relationship the works have to one another, the satisfaction we get from helping artists in our city and the pleasure we get directly from the art itself.

I don't think it's the artists who are guilty. It's society and it's foolish people with more money than smarts that see art as some kind of game.  How demeaning.

In Chicago, I hope we are capable of more. I hope we can lead and not follow this tomfoolery. Do we have enough substance to look for art of quality? Art that has meaning?  Art that is well-made?  Art that contains art - not artifice?

Look at the stupidity that goes on in New York.  Look at the stupid people paying 6 and 7 digits for crap that has an intrinsic value of less that 1/10 of what they are paying.  Look at the stupid people making a mockery of themselves.  And then look at how much superior art costs in Chicago.  This is a time for people here to lead with the brains and their pocketbooks.  Shop at home where there is a direct relationship between quality and price - not a hyperbolic one.  Acquire art here where it makes a difference to the local economy and finally shop here were you can positively make a constructive difference to someone else's life - the artist.

That said, there are some good shows to see this weekend and a fair number of them are at venues I bet you haven't been to yet.

Brian Dettmer's art and inserting it in a new context is fun. Known for dissecting books the specificity of his subject matter is perfectly appropriate for the International Museum of Surgical Science. Paired with James Cleary, these guys are having a good time, and we get new meaning from art we are likely familiar with while we learn. No, this is not about money. It's about stimulation and education.

The Smart Museum just opened an informative, didactic exhibit on the southside titled C
osmophilia (love of ornament): Islamic Art from the David Collection, Copenhagen.  We should not be so small as to generalize and attribute stereotypical attributions to an entire culture. It is imperative to see with our eyes open and to form our own opinions. No more should we pay blind allegiance to a curator than to a political attitude.  See some good art and form your own opinion.

Talk about exploring cultures. As a white male, I'm fascinated by a Black female whose art references Eastern scriptures, Sanskrit and western text.
Rhonda Wheatley's art at the Northeastern Illinois University is shown with Isaac Duncan's sculptures. They are both lyrical, yet balance one another with their contrasting gestures and divergent strengths.

I appreciate the perspective of the
Loyola University Museum of Art.  LUMA Adds a spiritual quality to our art experience. Opening tomorrow is a show of 58 etchings created by Georges Rouault titled Miserere et Guerre that was created in 1927 but not published until 1947 by Ambroise Vollard. And again, nothing is for sale.  This is about art and spirituality. Not commerce.

More good art not for sale( edit: the art is for sale)
- a show of thick, luxurious, gooey paintings by
Darrell Roberts at the Hyde Park Art Center which just opened. These are abstractions of Chicago. Yes, these are good paintings. Go see them. Experience them for yourself.  Give them a chance.  Don't listen to a curator.  Don't listen to me. Listen to yourself.  Try it.

Matt McDermott is one of those odd fellows (like me) who believes in Chicago and believes in Chicago Artists. He has created the
Chicago City Arts Gallery, that meanders around the city presenting big shows of a broad array of Chicago artists, giving folks exposure who don't see it often enough, not because they aren't wonderful, but because they most often do not fit into the more prosaic venues we tend to be familiar with.  This show includes Daniel De Los Monteros, Dolan Geiman, Chris Kemp, Erik Kopidlansky, Marc McGowan, Francisco Rosado, Rachel Wolf-Dodder, and Kathleen Vojta and is worth seeing more than once.

Let's wrap this up with an acknowledgment of what a fine gallery Uncle Freddy has who will be showing the amazing, spectacular work of Brian O'Dell a week from now in Highland, Indiana. Aberrant to a fault, this is creative, stimulating and otherworldly, which of course means it sheds a lot of light on us.

All right. Enough of me!
But thanks,
Paul Klein