Art Letter


2/16/07

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