June 5, 2013

Ana and Iñaki

A snapshot of a visit to MOMA to see Claes Oldenburg: The Street and the Store. Friends Ana and Iñaki stopped to say hello while on their way to Spain.

The show sharpened my pocket theory of how the high modernism of the New York school of painting flipped into the postmodern era. If Rothko, de Kooning, Pollock, etc were trying to touch G-d via material means, young Warhol, Oldenburg, Hamilton, etc pointed toward life via conceptual means. So from the end of the 50's onward streamed Pop, Minimalism, Conceptualism, Critical Theory, and a spreading delta (as in a river delta that was once a cold mountain stream) of assorted categories of the way artists could index the world around them.

A snip from Blake Gopnik's Dark Roots of a Pop Master's Sunshine:

Ann Temkin, the museum's chief curator of painting and sculpture and the coordinator of the Oldenburg exhibition -- a more focused version of a show first seen at Vienna's museum of modern art -- referred to "The Street" (1960), Mr. Oldenburg's first mature work, as "an absolute masterpiece." It was an art installation before the term was current, shown for six weeks in a shabby basement gallery run by the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square. Walls were covered with crude, barely legible cutouts of people, cars, bikes and guns -- basic ingredients of life on the Lower East Side -- made from found cardboard and slathered in black paint. The floor was awash in detritus picked off the pavements around Mr. Oldenburg's home, and the whole mess also functioned as a backdrop for some of the earliest happenings. For the one called "Snapshots From the City," Mr. Oldenburg dressed in rags and writhed and jerked amid the trash, finally pulling out a cardboard gun and miming suicide. "We were received in not too friendly a way," he recalled. "We were changing the rules."

Ms. Temkin said she detects an echo of Mr. Oldenburg's early work in the rise of garbage art and abject assemblage today, as well as in performance. "I see a whole host of performances by artists in their 20s, and I'm convinced that they don't know about these precedents," she said. "They shouldn't think they're inventing the wheel."

The brilliance of the postmodern turn was the realization that the status quo of high modernism was spent (no one could touch G-d better than Rothko and Pollock) and that its' ordinates could be converted into their antipodes. To repeat: where once artists tried to touch G-d through material means, the new generation pointed to everyday life through conceptual means.

Today, I feel, and others feel the exhaustion of the ambient narrative (to repeat Temkin: "They shouldn't think they're inventing the wheel"). Today's art world is a herd of mavericks. Revolution has a short shelf life. How do you revolt on revolution without becoming reactionary? (I'm thinking of my friends who came of age during the Punk Movement and their skeptical reaction to the Met's PUNK: Chaos to Couture) Culture naturally coagulates and art naturally breaks the scabs open, that's what it does.

The ordinates that we have inherited today aren't so easily flipped as they apparently were before. Antithetical options have been spent, at least temporarily. My guess is that it will require a synthesis of the two, both modern and the postmodern. We must repair the schizoid break. The problem is that this formulation doesn't yield the profusion of form and ideas that the gestalt of a zeitgeist should.

(Animated GIF via LoopCam)

Posted by Dennis at June 5, 2013 9:42 AM

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