Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Catching up

July 6, 2009 - 1:04pm -- Carol Diehl
Just back from Iceland, I segued into being so absorbed with painting that I don’t want to stop even to eat or go to the bathroom. But I know that soon enough I’ll be back to my normal self, wanting to share the images and thoughts from the trip that have been percolating in my head since returning. For an Icelandic art experience in New York, I recommend spending contemplative time with Finnbogi Petursson's beautiful installations involving sound, light and water at Sean Kelly. I became interested in Finnbogi's work on my first trip to Iceland in 2004, and was lucky enough to see the other half of the show last Saturday at i8 Gallery in Reykjavik.

Just to give you an idea, here's an earlier piece: Finnbogi Petursson, Elements, Water, Earth (2005), courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery.
And for something to read, this is Jerry Saltz writing about the state of the art world through the lens of the Venice Biennale (“Entropy in Venice”—could not be better named). These are issues I’ve been grumbling about for years, so it’s gratifying to find those opinions shared, and so succinctly summed up. You can read the whole thing on Artnet:

Venice is the perfect place for a phase of art to die. No other city on earth embraces entropy quite like this magical floating mall. There are now more than 100 biennales around the world (most of them put together by the same 25 celebrity curators, drawing from the same pool of 100 or so artists); Venice is often called "the most important" of them. The main show of the 53rd Venice Biennale, June 7-Nov. 22, 2009, is the work of Daniel Birnbaum, a well-respected 46-year-old Swedish critic and curator. His "Making Worlds," held in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni delle Biennale and in the magnificent Arsenale, attains an enervating inertia of exhibitions and brings us to a terminal state of what we’ll call "the curator problem."

Birnbaum’s show, containing the work of 90-plus artists, doesn’t offend or go off the rails. Rather, it looks pretty much the way these sorts of big international group shows and cattle calls now look; it includes the artists that these sorts of shows now include. It’s full of the reflexive conceptualism that artists everywhere now produce because other artists everywhere produce it (and because curators curate it). Almost all of this art comments on art, institutions or modernism. Basically, curators seem to love video, text, explanations, things that are "about" something, art that references Warhol or Prince, or that makes sense; they seem to hate painting, things that don’t make sense or that involve overt materiality, physicality, color or strangeness.

Any critic who says this, of course, is accused of conservatism, of wishing for a return to painting. I’m not for or against video -- or any medium or style, for that matter. Nor am I wishing for a return to painting, which can never come back because it never went away. (That said, it’s hard to imagine anything more conservative today than an institutional critique. That sort of work is the establishment.) My beef is with the experience that "Making Worlds" produces. It’s just another esthetically familiar feedback cycle: impersonal, administratively adept, highly professionalized, formally generic, mildly gregarious, esthetically familiar, totally knowing, cookie-cutter. It is time we broke out of that enervated loop.


Hmm judging from the palette, you're about to embark on a green period?...

As for Venice, I agree, but it's hard to crucify Birnbaum for looking like all the rest - I mean that's why he got the gig, no?

I know these things are meant to promote art generally, and apparently they only do that when they stay on message, but increasingly no one trusts the messanger. The 'circuit' has been a career boon for curators, but it hasn't advanced criticism or scholarship one jot.

I dislike them for the same reason I dislike art prizes - it attempts to substitute competition for diversity. If they were to disappear tomorrow as some economizing measure, it might not be a bad thing, at least for a while.

Yes, lots of green. A dangerous color for an artist.

I'm beginning to think that the art world--our means of cultivating, experiencing, and evaluating art--is as bloated, dysfunctional and antiquated as our so-called health care system.

But like weeds in the cracks of sidewalks, art prevails. I look forward to seeing what form it takes.

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