Monday, October 27, 2008

Bernd and Hilla Becher, Terre Rouge, Esch-Alzette, Luxembourg, 1979

Jonathan Monk, Golden Arms II, 2006, gold plated coat hangers

Neue Sachlichkeit?

(Slightly expanded FB exchange viz. SFWGT, below, and aesthetics in general)

ALEX MORRISON: Oh no, not the "new" "sincere" "objectivity" ??!!

CJB: Realism is an old mode. Sincerity isn't a defect in art, no more so than the reflexive skepticism/irony that pervades contemporary practice, but it doesn't guarantee aesthetic worth or "quality." (In passing, I don't like the "weakness" of much contemporary "sincerity": the hand-drawn and lettered 'zine; the big blue Bic ballpoint drawing of a robin or wolf in the middle of a huge expanse of expensive white Arches: the reflexive "protests" of young people so intimidated by their older peers that they flaunt their own belatedness and presumed inconsequentiality as the subject of their work. Yawn!)

Objectivity is a historical construct, and maybe interesting as a style ("objectivist style," qv. the Bechers, above) but I don't believe that it, in and of itself, is any guarantee of quality or worth, either.

Contemporary theorists of
Neue Sachlichkeit were very eager to pin down specific physical differences between Expressionism and its antagonists. Here's Franz Roh in 1925, drawing distinctions: "Expressive deformation of objects / Harmonic cleansing of objects. . .Rich in diagonals / Rectangular in frame. . . ." Binary opposition is what they call this kind of prescriptive "criticism." Walker Evans' notion of "realist style" seems more reasonable to me: the recognition that compositional techniques are grammars that generate meanings that shift over time. (Evan Lee's photographs of everyday objects seem exemplary to me in their conjuction of a deadpan "realist" compositional style with a philosophical preoccupation with the irrational, the absurd, the supernatural: the high-speed collision of "objectivity" and its others).

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