William Hudders at Tatistcheff; The National
Art Education Association at sea
WILLIAM HUDDERS put up a handsome
show, his first with Peter Tatistcheff in the new Chelsea space.
His plant paintings—they resist the term still life—have
appealed to me for as long as I have known them. Here, too,
were several depopulated cityscapes painted for their own sake,
rather than as backdrops for greenery. The arrangement offered
a welcome opportunity to come to terms with the hint of eccentricity
that runs through Hudders oeuvre.
Mario Naves, writing in the New York Observer, made
reference to the strangeness of them. "Strange" is
a good word to start with. It points us in the direction of
uneasiness, toward something out-of-kilter, akimbo, in these
supposedly matter-of-fact depictions. After this exhibition,
I know what it is that unsettles. Hudders is not a realistic
painter, despite the superficially straight-up realism of his
Hudders is a fantasist. Possibly, this is a lingering symptom
of his having paid the bills, once upon a time, by working for
Jeff Koons in his studio. But I think not. His tendency toward
schematic simplification is too authentic; his gift for pattern
and taste for the contest between flat stylization and the 3-dimensional
realities of his motifs are too compelling.
My guess is that Hudders is a surrealist who has not owned
up to it yet. What else could explain a painting like Night
Music? There is an odd disjunction between quite conventional—if
oversized—apples and lemons at the base of a cunningly
reinvented plant. Weve seen the fruit a thousand times
before. But those leaves! Diagrammatic and monumental, they
are close in spirit to the vegetation of Henri Rousseau. Those
lush, nonconforming greens come from a fantasists palette,
not a naturalists. Tell me Hudders greenery does
not remind you of The
Hudders formal strengths are those that tip toward the
totemic and the Douaniers simulated primitivism. The bent,
decorative forms of Hudders house plants are sedate, urban
cousins to Wifredo Lams Caribbean tobacco leaves. Behind
both are the planes of African sculpture joined to a modern
design sense. If he is interested in resolving tensions between
the real and the surreal that appear in his work, Hudders might
call in the ghost of Lam as a consultant.
It will be interesting to see whether or not Hudders
continues to hug the bounds of traditional representation.
William Hudders: A Place of Silence and Light, Tatistcheff
Gallery, 529 West 20th Street, NYC.
ART EDUCATION is that branch of
the art industry—distinguished from hands-on training
in art making—that addresses itself to artificial intelligence.
With B-movie class-consciousness, it provides one-stop shopping
for all your ideological needs.
The National Art Education Association is seeking entries for
a new anthology to examine "the relationship between semiotics,
visual culture and art education." (Semiotics, science
of signs, is the latest doctrinal entry in the academic catechism.
It joins deconstruction, feminism and Marxism as a source of
The current issue of the College Art Associations newsletter
carries the NAEAs solicitation which lists, in earnest
alphabetical order, a catalogue of suggested topics. Herewith,
the wall chart:
author / artist / authority bricolage
content and context
gaze and glance
icon / index / symbol
taboo, or values and ethics
One look at this curry of buzzwords and the eating habits of
tenured art appreciators are clearer than Perrier. The menu
signals that all academic dietary laws will be observed. No
artminds will be put off their feed. Feminists can sink their
capped teeth into "gaze," that evilly male phenomenon.
Multiculturists will gnaw on "colonialism." Donnish
radicals get to jab their forks into "pedagogy" and
Theres only a single H, the predictable "hegemony."
But that is enough to keep the taps open until closing time.
The entire faculty, in concord and beery unanimity, can raise
a pint to, say, manifestations of gendered power in headress
iconography. Or, the æsthetics of post colonial politics.
Listen while everybody cocks a snook at the bourgeois bogey
of delectation that lurks in that word "ideology."
"Bricolage" rhymes well with "camouflage,"
but dont be misled. It is an isolated and inadmissible
felicity. Intellectual ambition trumps aesthetic impulse.
The most depressing item here is "common sense."
It is offered as a specimen under scrutiny, like a fly in amber,
indicating its rarity as an inherent component of the discipline.
Orderly alphabetizing lends an aura of rationality to what is
, at heart, a mad endeavor: the compulsion to reduce the pleasure
of art to zero. Educators scenting a foundation grant with this
kind of beady-eyed erudition have no more interest in art than
a hamster. They are pushers of a self-blinding intellectualism
that projects upon art formulæ that fit their chosen blinkers.
What does this amount to in real life? Let me tell you.
At the Art Institute of Chicago in early December, I wandered
into to a group of tourists lugging down jackets and submitting,
docile as retrievers, to a dose of culture. The doser, a.k.a.
docent, was a severe, anorexic blonde in a calf-length black
dress and high black leather boots. No earrings, just rings
on all the wrong fingers. A reformer with a commanding voice,
committed to exposing bourgeois decadence.
Mistress of the Dark Hint, she was out to uncover nastiness
in as many gilt frames as possible. She sensed "something
ominous" in a Degas pastel of two homely young ballerinas
caught in an unguarded moment off-stage. Her tip-off was the
"dog-like" faces of these young girls, odds-on waifs
from some seedy arrondissement.
You might think ballet training would be a reprieve for 19th
century Parisian street kids. But no. These were "courtesans
on the way up" performing for the "delectation of
the upper middle classes." Every ballerina a slut, you
can see it on their faces. Besides, Degas avoided centering
his subjects. Notice his suspicious habit of framing scenes
as if he were "watching through a peephole."
You get the feeling Degas was oily as a tanker spill. Wring
Next, Seurat was dragged in as evidence for the prosecution.
Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte,
if you hadnt guessed, is a dogs breakfast of class
warfare, alienation, anomie and social subversion. You see,
dont you, that there are "no intact families"
depicted? Only "broken" ones. [Knowing sigh.] That
fellow on the left, pipe in mouth and reclining on his elbows,
is clearly a workman of some kind. Possibly a oarsman. How rude!
How thrilling to place such a fellow among the Better Sort!
|La Grande Jatte
But wait. They are not all that much better. See a wet nurse
in the distance, her hat a code to her occupation. Another member
of the laboring classes slipped onto the grass! And look again
at the dominant couple standing on the right: a prostitute and
her fancy man! He is damned by that nasty cigar and—yuk!—puff
of white smoke. We know her game by the size of her bustle,
a badge of sex workers.
The audience nodded, shifted their scarves and took their medicine.
No one asked if the bustle provided a needed design function.
Or when a cigar might be just a cigar. No one left with a clue
to the splendor of Seurats visual intelligence. I ducked
away before our docent examined the sheets for signs of more
bourgeois decadence in the Lautrecs and Gauguins.
Good cheer to you, lady, from a grateful middle class.
Maureen Mullarkey © 2002