Thursday, September 04, 2008

Peter Paul Rubens, The Entombment, c. 1612

Three Anecdotes

1. Neaera doesn't want a symphonic art, or a totalized, overdetermined one, just something capable of blowing through the local hothouse atmosphere like a summer shower. Half-listening in between the demands of the ringing phone and the back-to-school hordes seeking Atwood and Bronte and Orwell and Harry Potter I recall my friend Pete describing Evan Lee's photographs in an old essay, remarking on their visible lack of intention, their refusal to traffic in the usual cliches of signification (ie., the symbolic representation of things the art-audience already intuitively knows how to "read": the monster house; the skate park; the crushed and upturned car). Take a picture like 4 Oranges (1999; on the artist's site). This is far from my favorite Lee picture, but I would take its plain reticence -- its reluctance to speak to much beyond what it nominally signifies (color; volume; quantity) over pictures with supplementary texts that rehearse, in often exhausting and mind-numbing detail, the significance of each element of pictorial signification. Good art can be informed by research, but art objects that put research on display, or (worse) equate research depth with aesthetic efficacy, seem to me to lack faith in the representational systems that constitute them as art in the first place. Victor Burgin aside, it's hard to footnote pictures in a way that enables picture and footnote to maintain an independence from each other. In the language of power exchange, good footnoted pictures (Burgin's US 77; Douglas' black-and-white photo-text Monodrama diptychs) are switches.

2. "I have to do it first to not do it," says Isabelle Pauwels, frowning at me from under her paint-splattered ballcap. (The question of externalizing one's concept of art as form and thereby changing it).

3. "Meaninglessness." Freedom from intention. The canon's usefulness only as an aid to plain sight (bright blue and purple pigments; space tipped, a la a Cubist table; cracked driveway concrete). Realism's demand to look and not reflexively prejudge. The "dead weight" of Rubens' Christ and his green skin. And John, in his red robe, who notices and doesn't turn away.

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