Google’s Art Project

This is a detail view of part of the bed in Van Gogh’s The Bedroom. I got it from Google’s new Art Project, a site where, apparently, those hoarders everyone feels ambivalent about plan to archive high resolution renderings of the world’s artworks like they’ve archived everything else. But after having spent a good hour on the site, I can’t say it’s not an awesome tool for art lovers. There’s a whole luscious side to artworks that you’re missing if you’re not able to see them close up, and for those of us who can’t jet around the globe whenever it strikes us, this offers a pretty reasonable substitute for the experience you’re going to get in a museum, that is, with your face pressed to the protective glass.

I’ve thought a lot about the experience of art via jpeg, or through reproduction in general (since this is how I take most of it in) versus the direct gallery experience. The only conclusion I can come to is that both are absolutely valid art experiences, and there’s nothing saying the humbler means can’t afford the richer experience. All experiences of art, after all, are imperfect; you take what you can from it however you can get it. And since so much of any significant encounter with art comes down to factors such as your receptivity to it and capacity for appreciating it, the network of experiences that lead up to your seeing it, and, say, whether your tired back or the kid mounted on it is distracting you, there’s nothing saying that even when face to face with a masterpiece you’d be the right person and it the right work of art or the time right. 

I remember the day that I finally “got” Francis Bacon. For a long time I had no feeling for his paintings at all and then one day, after looking through a couple of monographs in a book store - I ended up buying both of them - and spending the whole day looking at them, I had something like a road to damascus moment if I’ve ever had one. Would I have gotten even more out of the paintings if I’d seen them in a gallery? Maybe. On the other hand, maybe I wouldn’t have felt anything at all. I’ve still only seen a few Bacons up close but I don’t have any reservations about calling him one of my favorite artists. 

Bacon had his own experience like this with a Velasquez, the Pope that obsessed him for a good part of his life and became the inspiration for many of his own paintings. In fact, he liked it so much in reproduction that he eschewed the direct experience, even when he could easily have gone and seen it while in Madrid, and instead, apparently buying book after book with it in, collected reproductions of it. 

But there is a lot to be said for seeing a painting close up. It’s a different thing, and it’s less easy, looking at them this way, to forget the aesthetic dimension, the How of the painting, the side of art appreciation that entails running your eyes over a paint surface in grateful participation, retracing the brushwork that made it, when you have both the tactile level and the overview and you can track back and forth between them. Roberta Smith, writing about the Art Project a couple of days ago, says it’s “a mesmerizing, world-expanding tool for self-education.” I think that “self-education” part gets it right. It’s not a replacement for looking at art in museums. It’s a reference, and next to seeing it in the raw, a pretty useful second.

A close-up of Chris Ofili’s No Woman, No Cry (right). And you can get much much closer still…



My brain’s desktop, part one

I haven’t been doing much with my blog lately but, lo, golden week is upon us, so here now is an index of what I’ve been looking at, reading about, or wanting to write about lately. For the most part, I’m using my desktop as a guide here (it’s cluttered with jpegs I grab and don’t file). Some of this stuff I intend to write more about at some point, hopefully this week. But for the time being, and in the interest of cleaning up my desktops - mental and computorial (alas, not the physical one), the following assortment of jpegs, links, etc…

Sharon Stone visits Marina Abramovic at MOMA. I think I like this photo because I imagine Sharon Stone, the real, middle-aged woman, getting up, putting her hair back, going to a museum, committing to an unfamiliar art experience just like everyone else, open to it, unjaded. Maybe I just like thinking about this other person, this other Sharon Stone, whoever she is. Other than that, she just looks beautiful anyway, more so for the absence of make-up. The whole photo series (in which you’ll see some other recognizable faces) is fascinating just as a display of physiognomic variety. Okay, there is a white majority, but there might also be a female majority (as well as a fairly high quotient of art schoolers, if I’m any judge). As Ingmar Bergman knew, close-ups are always interesting - we never tire of the human face. Jerry Saltz, in his review of the exhibit, alert to this so-intrinsic-you-almost-miss-it content: “Abramovic gets you to understand why many animals hate being looked at by humans. There’s something powerful and uncanny and pure about an unbroken gaze.

Marina Abramovic herself, on the other hand… I’m not sure. If an up or down thumb were asked of me (just supposing), I don’t know which way I’d go. From photos I’ve seen and especially reading the online buzz about this exhibit, I can’t help feeling that were seeing self-imposed suffering and a strange kind of projected sainthood as spectacle, which makes me really uncomfortable about it. I’m not saying there’s nothing else there, just that that side of it, which is fundamental, annoys me. This I’ve been wanting to write more about, but I’m trying not to simply respond with my gut, my cynical gut, on this. I’m trying to give it the benefit of the doubt.

One thing that has to be positive (or does it?): people are talking about it, and talking about art. One discussion I found particularly interesting was the one below Jerry Saltz’s brief article for New York. I didn’t think the article itself was anything special, but Saltz held court on his own comments board, defending himself against a typically antagonistic crowd of posters and laying out not only a defense of the exhibit but practically a statement of principles for his critical practice. Frankly, I liked Jerry the engaged commenter more than Jerry the critic this time.

Still on the Abramovic topic…

Apparently, one performer in the show was dismissed for penile misconduct (ie. erection) at the family-friendly institution. Reading the metafilter messageboard, I came across this disquieting but ripe-for-John Waters-satire art-school tale:

"In one of my drawing classes we had a male model and a physiotherapist with a pack of Crayola washable markers for a lesson in anatomy: The physio used different colors to outline various muscle groups (e.g., the deltoid) and then had the model move to demonstrate how the muscle contracted and bulged in various ways (e.g., lifting his arm caused the deltoid to get shorter and wider, and this was easily visible with purple outline and contour lines).  Very useful demonstration, except that for the entire three hours, the model had a full erection, and a slow dribble of semen; occasionally he’d make a furtive gesture to wipe it away. Bizarrely, we all sat there for all three hours, pretending this wasn’t happening. On break, we made jokes about the leaky model, and then returned. In retrospect I think that it was the peculiar atmosphere of art school: This is art, and this the body, and everything it does (and that comes out of it) is natural and nothing to be ashamed of. So we spent three hours watching a man ejaculate. Fortunately that model wasn’t invited back."

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Recent Chris Ofili paintings. Still trying to find out what’s going on in these private little affairs. I kind of like them though.

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Old Comme des Garcons. Lumps and Bumps, 1997.

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Elizabeth Murray: The Lowdown. I was thinking about Murray and Bruce Nauman, two artists whose (totally polar) work didn’t appeal to me at first blush at all but which I’ve come to love. It’s nice to have your taste pried open now and again, to have to broaden your definition of what art is and what the right thing to do is.

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Fischli and Weiss, on the other hand, has always worked for me. (A midpoint between Murray and Nauman?) They seem fun when so much art has forsworn that frivolous commodity. They’re coming to Kanazawa for their first solo show in Asia in September. Can’t wait!

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Speaking of fun, here’s its opposite: the new International Style. Who made these paintings? No. Guess again? No. No, you’re never going to get it. They’re by Adrian Ghenie. But it could have been any one of a hundred artists (let alone countless hundreds of students) making paintings like this right now. A little bit Tuymans, a little Neo Rauch - I don’t know the exact recipe, but I know I see this everywhere and it’s already intensely lame. Let me guess: they’ve something to do with memory, history, and dreams. Very well done, and drab, drab, drab.

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30 Rock: the best thing being produced by the United States right now? Jane Krakowski (as Jenna Maroney) - and not Alec Baldwin - the best part of the show?

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Every month near my apartment there’s a market for antiques, junk, etc. Who knows what this item is for? I guess I’d hope it’s for displaying clothes. But weird.

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New Bolano story in the New Yorker. Strange and thrilling reading.

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I’m afraid of the future of Joan Rivers. Could her face be the apocalypse?



Chris Ofili: The Raising of Lazarus.



Saint Passionate

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