Art 21, season five

Season five of the PBS art education show, Art 21, is now online and free to view. The most interesting profiles for me this season were those of Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons (just because he’s so corny and put-on in the interview, saying all the right things - hilarious), Allan McCollum, and John Baldessari.

I’d never heard of Allan McCollum before but his projects, in which he contracts out work to craftsmen he never meets, seems kind of interesting. He also just seems like one of those artists too hung up on his own peculiar little imaginative concern to be bothered cultivating any kind of persona for himself, really down to earth. There’s a mutual respect between himself and the craftsmen that is kind of touching, too. They might wonder what he’s up to and what kind of project it is they’re helping to fulfill but, even not completely understanding, they’re committed to seeing their side of it through with professionalism. I don’t know - I guess that segment just appeals to the small town protestant in me.

John Baldessari is an artist with whom I’ve only recently become familiar, but almost everything of his I’ve seen I’ve liked. He’s that increasingly rare kind of artist: a conceptualist who recognizes the necessity of maintaining a modicum of formal constraint. As he says in the video: “Not so much structure that it’s inhibiting, but not so loose that it can be anything.” He comes off particularly well just for being so damn relaxed, thoughtful, and, for lack of a better word, human. We never see him doing anything in the video other than sitting in his chair, talking, and making choices, which he says is the essence of art-making. You realize it’s art that comes to him, not the other way around. He’s just patient, waiting for something that comes along and looks like it works. 

It’s partly a relief, but also a little saddening, how professional and work-a-day most of the artists seem. I’m glad they’re not romantic brats, waiting for god’s light to illuminate their footsteps but, on the other hand, something about the way they work with their teams - never an artist without his assistants - always feels so incorporated, more like a design office than anything else. There are all kinds of ways of making art, I realize, but surely the process hasn’t been totally demystified, surely there’s still a little excitement in it. Those big bright studios, assistants running around in them, always overly keen - they don’t strike me as places conducive to imaginative play (which is still my understanding of what art is). They seem like factories. But that may just be me.

The show is illuminating though, at least of the diversity of approaches out there, while it fails, in the end, to convince me of the work’s capacity to illuminate. For the time being, we content ourselves with museums chock-full of okay.

Saint Passionate


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