Dear Artforum…

Thanks for showing me who drank what at last night’s art world mixer, for showing me all the smiling professionals and what they had in the way of glasses and scarves. I can’t wait until we’re all comfy and rich (or at least myopic) like the people in your photos. Until then, here’s to pretending it’s about art. 

Art Bullshit (6)

I’m calling bullshit on artist Mike Nelson and Modern Painters for collaborating to produce these awful photos in this month’s issue. I’m not sure which is the worst mistake - the coat, the coat from behind, or the hangdog expression. I was thinking what you are: that mopey expression is the worst offense. But now ask yourself Why would anyone want to see a picture of an artist in a grizzly bear coat walking away from the camera? It’s bad enough having him out there to begin with, having him out there pretending he knows how to walk around in his backyard, and having a photographer out there licensing him to do so, but a walking-away shot? That’s ridiculous; and it’s bullshit.

Miscellaneous links

I haven’t had much time for blogging anything recently, despite having lots of things I’m anxious to blog about (hint: Rubens!). In the meantime, here are a couple more links to art-related articles…

A new article on Luc Tuymans in the New York Review of Books and an accompanying blog post. The blog post performs the function of the google image search you’d find yourself doing if you read the article and weren’t familiar with Tuymans’ work.

……………………………………………………………………………….'s several blog posts (so far, one, two, three) about a new Gerhard Richter book, 4900 Colours. Without calling outright Bullshit, he does highlight some pretty alarming passages of artspeak, and wonders aloud about the implications of a photo of Richter inside the flap, where he’s seen painting the individual color blocks by hand:

"Buchloch goes on to say Richter is not, like some artists [Moholy-Nagy, *cough* Judd], triumphantly declaiming "the superceding of painting’s artisanal past," with his mechanicism; his is "a rather detached, not to say resigned, acceptance of the inevitable regimes of technological production."

Sigh. Then if the facture-free production of 4,900 Colours is so intrinsic to both its “monotonous polychromy” and its—I love this—“almost Beckettian complacency in the exhaustion and hopelessness that technological progress without social transformation has inflicted on the subject,” why is the artist posing on with a brush as he gets ready to lay down the last stroke?”

Art Bullshit (5)

It may be that there is perfectly good sense here, but if I were face to face with someone and he said the following to me, I don’t think I’d be an idiot to ask What do you mean?

"Nolde’s true motif is the formal and substantial differentiations that exist in the interstices of empirical levels of experience…"

By the way, I declare a moratorium on using the word “interstices” in art writing. Absolutely despicable. Then there’s this:

"The aesthetics of the female figure serve as a motif of recall."

Does this just mean that Nolde painted the female form from memory? Is what it’s saying that much more complicated? And if it is, couldn’t whatever it means to say be made clearer?

Art writers are so afraid of admitting that the source of their interest can be reduced to something very simple, as if that were synonymous with a lack of sophistication. The whole of this essay on Emil Nolde (by Tilman Osterwold), for example, could be boiled down to the rather bland but still worthwhile thesis that, in Nolde’s watercolors, form and content are inseparable and that he (Nolde) is able to suggest depth through his handling of the paint. Instead we get a lot of talk about “dialogues”, a metaphor that is more obscurantist than enlightening here; that there are contrasts in color and opacity, and that there are often several people in the pictures, doesn’t make it revelatory or even appropriate. Relationships between elements make Nolde’s paintings what they are, yes, but that is true of all painting. The metaphor is introduced sheerly to give the author something to say. I call bullshit.

Later in the same essay, more banality:

"The paint handling renders the "story" open-ended, dynamic. (It would be an interesting experiment to see how many different plots or "screenplays" a viewer could suggest on the basis of "Unpainted Pictures" like this one.)"

The quotation marks around “Unpainted Pictures” are there because that’s their title. But the others are indefensible, they’re there because of the writer’s embarrassment of his own dull writing, or because he wants you to think he’s saying more than he is. And I don’t think I’m a total stick in the mud saying that it actually wouldn’t be an interesting experiment at all.


"The upshot is that the "unuttered language" of painting makes the viewer the subject of the image, in the sense that he or she is encouraged to mirror or reflect, to imaginatively create a context based on the visual stimuli of form, design, paint medium, because the viewer cannot be aware of the figures’ background, the artist’s particular thoughts about their personalities, what they think, the way they communicate, their mental and physical habits."

Here we go with the feral bane of art writing - the tedious enumeration of things that could go without saying. Mirror or reflect. Their mental and physical habits. And “visual stimuli” - give me a break already!

"Whatever these Three Young Women are saying or not saying to each other or themselves, Nolde’s pictorial mise en scene, his dramaturgy of form and content, aim at concealing more than revealing."

Here’s another cliche trotted out. From what I know of Nolde’s process, he didn’t really “aim” to paint anything particular at all, and I’m sure “dramaturgy” and concealing what the characters in his pictures were thinking and saying would have made his head spin. And regardless of Nolde’s intentions, it’s just barren, lazy writing.

I make these criticisms aware of the fact that the sensations people feel looking at art are often elusively complex. It’s even harder to convey that experience to others without losing some of those delicate nuances. But too often that’s an excuse for sloppy writing. If it’s worth writing about, it’s worth saying well.

(All quotes from “Unpainted Pictures”, an essay by Tilman Osterwold.)

Art Bullshit (4)

"Textual fluidity has an important tactical function in the transactional network of marketing communication."

- Douglas Kellner:  A Baudriard Reader.

Art Bullshit (3)

On the sketch that Elizabeth Peyton does of him and his wife, New Yorker writer Calvin Tomkins says:

"I could see myself, Dodie less clearly,"

but don’t worry because…

"…with Peyton, likeness is never the main issue."

A post-photography figurative painter for whom likeness isn’t the main issue - imagine that! I can only guess what that sketch must have looked like. The article says she even made a second sketch later. I see her digging deeper into likeness in that one.

Art Bullshit (2)

Can objects even be one-dimensional?

“Viewing time as a multiplicity rather than as a linear progress, the Altermodern artist navigates history as well as all the planetary time zones producing links between signs faraway from each other. Altermodern is docufictional in that it explores the past and the present to create original paths where boundaries between fiction and documentary are blurred. Formally speaking, it favours processes and dynamic forms to one-dimensional single objects and trajectories to static masses.”

- Nicolas Bourriaud: Altermodern: Tate Triennial 2009.

Art Bullshit (1)

"…linguistic sounds - that is, words…”

"But I want to consider more closely the particular components constituting Get Out: specifically, the nature of its sounds. Not simply ambient noise or illegible cacophony, they are linguistic sounds - that is, words, given voice by the artist performing them for a tape recorder, changing the volume and speed of delivery with each repetition, “GET OUT OF MY MIND, GET OUT OF THIS ROOM,…get out of my mind, get out of this room…”. Get Out, I propose, is a work about language.”

- Janet Kraynak: Please Pay Attention Please: Bruce Nauman’s Words: Writings and Interviews.

Saint Passionate


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