Is There a Patch Test for Art Intolerance?
The Gallery Gang at Caren Golden
The problem with so-called contemporary artto be distinguished
from the art of our contemporarieslies in the fact that
so much of it is premised on cultural assumptions that undermine
By the time I had worked my way around this group show, I
felt like the narrator in Ali Smiths The Shortlist
Season. Outwardly subdued and respectful, the Smith character
cannot navigate a contemporary art exhibition without breaking
into a sweat. Is it the art that gets her glands going?
Could it be that, contrary to popular piety, pictures are
intrinsically bad for her? Sweat running down her spine, she
wonders if there is a patch test for art intolerance.
We have the results, the doctor would say. You
are sensitive to dust mites, the hairs of cats and horses,
shellfish, metals related to nickel and several forms of cultural
Which forms? The ones produced by talents addled by vacant
quests for novelty or corrupted by the sham profundity of
Joseph Beuys. It is all there in the press release: "The
Gallery Gang" explores the variety and ingenuity of ways
to approach the making of works on paper." Not a
word about what might be worth putting on paper. Nothing at
all about aspirations to visual inherence, that charged relationship
between form and content. The work exists only to illustrate
how late the artists stay up devising ways to inch farther
along the exhausted trajectory of cutting-edge practice.
Virtually every piece in this exhibition is labeled Untitled.
Such is the polite tag for work that is all about moi.
My ingenuity, my penmanship, my fey doodling, my digestion,
the marvel of my own creative juices. Indeed, my placehowever
randomin the communion of Fluxus saints.
So Amy Morkens scratchy, incoherent drawings of female
forms with lost heads and missing or multiple limbs are presented
as "a visual record of both Morkens train of thought
and of the spontaneous impulse of the creative process."
Inquiry into the quality of Amys thinking or the nature
and purpose of these impulses is off-limits. Amy is an artist.
Anything an artist produces is efficacious. Rome speaks, causa
Paul Henry Ramirez is blessed with a sure hand and a nimble
calligraphic line that roller-coasts across the page in elegant
sweeps. Drips of thinned acrylic paint are reinforced at strategic
points by precise bands of opaque color, indicating close
attention to texture and chromatic nuances. It is a shame
to see it all add up to bubble-gum on a mens room wall.
What the press release euphemizes as "suggestions of
internal and external body part, fine hairy elements and oozing
forms," is the usual adolescent fixation on genitaliahairy
scrotums, ejaculations, penises. Paul Henrys controlling
sensibility is frozen at a level that diddles itself with
the thought that theres always room for one more custard
More juvenilia follows in Martha Benzings "Eye
Candy" series. Her personal vision proceeds from food
coloring. Kool-Aid and the melted colorant of M & M candies
pinch hit for paint and brush in this look-ma-no-hands evocation
of grade school art class. She has a bent toward subtlety
and delicacy that could, imaginably, arise to something for
grownups to look at. If she would just stop playing Martha
Stewarts Little Helper long enough to decide what in
this wide world might be worth depicting.
One has to be far-gone in an antihistamine haze or on soma-holiday
not to feel a little tarnished, shop worn, in front of Gerhard
Mayers recycled tourist postcards. Remember what you
did with picture postcards when you were a kid? You took a
pencil and scratched into the photographic coating. If you
are young enough that your mother has not thrown them out
yet, go get them from the attic. You can call them your "Inlays"
series and, chutzpah knowing no bounds, you can ask $300 for
each of them.
Under magnets on refrigerator doors across America are blobs
of paint on paper that sensitive observers are careful not
to interpret. The preferred mode is inquisitive. One asks
the artistgenerally ranging in age from nursery to middle
schoolwhat she was thinking when she made these. Maia
Namtvedt was thinking about rocks. Four pieces of paper, each
with a few daubs of black paint, are casually tacked to the
gallery wall with black binder clips on nails. They are portraits
of rocks. The press release says so.
Elizabeth Olpert knows how to draw. The strength of her own
gift, however, is drained off into tacky cutouts and the gimcrackery
of layered images that are just so much California-dreamin'
Seon Chuns "intimate drawing" is as tedious
to look at as it must have been to make. What resembles the
outline of a piece of broken glass, is arrived at by the persistent
accumulation of tiny marks in a kind of miniature crazy quilt,
a collapsed graph. The success of this kind of drawing rests
exclusively in the merit of the artists touch, refining
the obsession. What is on view here is little more than doggedness.
I have omitted mention of John Powers drawings for
no better reason than I cannot, for the life of me, remember
them. The p.r. states that they are "accumulations of
multiple layers of white on white paper." Mind you, thats
against a white wall. Maybe there was just too much white.
Or maybe by the time I got round to them, I was too disheartened
by the overall immaturity of ambition on display to see them
properly. My apologies.
John Carhart Ebeling is nicely represented with a veiled
abstraction built of oil paint washed over and around a digital
imagea kind of color barprinted on vellum. However
contemporary his technique, the finished piece distinguishes
itself according to traditional bases for judgment: color
interaction, the compositional balance of positives and voids,
the physicality of media, tension between accident and design.
It is work I would love to see more of.
Ditto John Kalymnios stainless steel, motorized version
of the old spirograph. Another glance over our shoulder to
the culture of childhood, this particular one respects the
difference between the spirit of play and mere childishness.
The sleek drawing arm of the machine is equipped with a colored
pencil that makes perfect spirals in endless succession. Change
the pencil to vary the color, width and texture of the mechanical
line. Control the breadth of the arc by adjusting the motor.
It is not so much a work of art as a gizmo, a wonderful, witty
gizmo that was our first tangible hint of infinity. It is
as much fun now as it was when we were ten. And as potent.
"Everyone is an artist," Joseph Beuys proclaimed,
famously. Everyone his own savant, amour propre becoming
a cultural imperative to fatten art departments while it starves
the arts. Beuys self-serving stance is the philosophical
equivalent to the principle on view in this exhibition: all
marks are meaningful, all doodles are drawings. It is a road