Winter Curry
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 images.

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. We’ve 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 fantasist’s palette, not a naturalist’s. Tell me Hudders’ greenery does not remind you of The Dream.

Night Music

Hudders’ formal strengths are those that tip toward the totemic and the Douanier’s simulated primitivism. The bent, decorative forms of Hudders’ house plants are sedate, urban cousins to Wifredo Lam’s 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 Hudder’s 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 systematic revelation.)

The current issue of the College Art Association’s newsletter carries the NAEA’s solicitation which lists, in earnest alphabetical order, a catalogue of suggested topics. Herewith, the wall chart:

author / artist / authority bricolage
cognitive dissonance
commercial art
common sense
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 "power."

There’s 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 don’t 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 your hands.

Next, Seurat was dragged in as evidence for the prosecution. Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte, if you hadn’t guessed, is a dog’s breakfast of class warfare, alienation, anomie and social subversion. You see, don’t 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
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 Seurat’s 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

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