Unreal Nature

April 28, 2017

Termites Within a Find Oak Chair

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… That while life goes on (sometimes banal, sometimes dramatic) there is always something else going on that we cannot quite understand or identify …

This is from ‘The Vanitas Series’ (1981) found in More Than You Wanted to Know About John Baldessari Vol. 2 (2013):

… Perhaps I fear that meaning is fleeing words and images in modern life. I believe that making something beautiful is like learning to drive. After one learns how to drive, one should concentrate on where to go. I want to use beauty to convey meaning and the problems of conveying meaning.

From ‘Notebook Entries to Myself for Work that Is Not Yet’ (1986):

… Draw a focal point (life source, navel of world). Add four quadrants (as the pillars that hold up the sky?) and what emerges is a Constantine cross. Art should be like this. Things set into motion and things happening inevitably and as a wonderful surprise.

… Is Joyce right when he writes of the highest art being static — that it is beyond desire. Porn art and didactic art moves us, are non-static. If I place a color photo of a patch of skin next to an equal size of canvas covered with flesh-colored paint, does this provide an answer, or by synthesis a new question.

… The focus question. Why are most photos “in focus”? This is considered desirable, generally. A Right. Why is “out of focus” generally Wrong? Invert the priority. It is a biological fear of blindness that makes us prefer the former. Yet lack of sight makes acute the other senses. Would this happen by viewing out of focus photos?

… Ulysses, tapping he head, said, “It is here I must kill the king.” How to get rid of the temple guard that lets some thoughts in; turns away others.

From ‘Termites Within a Find Oak Chair’ (The Vienna Pieces)’ (1986-87)

… The intended effect of these works is that they be paradoxical. That while life goes on (sometimes banal, sometimes dramatic) there is always something else going on that we cannot quite understand or identify — get a grasp on. A sense of false security or the calm before the storm. Termites within a fine oak chair. Skating on thin ice. The solid world as flux. The possibility of evil. The deferring of desire. The brooding enigma of good and bad.

Finally, from ‘Photography Changes What Artists Do’ (2011):

… If I make a picture a guessing game, I might capture your attention for a little bit longer. There is a hierarchy of vision that I’m interested in attacking and breaking down. If you look at a photograph of people in a room, you’re going to look at their faces first. You’re not going to look at a book that’s on a table. What I try to do is make you look at the book on the table.

… My goal has always been to attack conventions of seeing. The work is about seeing the world askew. Remember the old Charles Addams cartoon, where all you see are people sitting in a theater audience and everyone has a horrified expression on their face, except for one guy who’s grinning and laughing? I often think that guy is me.

My most recent previous post from Baldessari’s book is here.




April 27, 2017

Contemporary Art Emerges, Thrives, and Resists

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… Everything else is luster, hubris, or expressions of pious good taste.

This is from the introduction to Industry and Intelligence: Contemporary Art Since 1820 by Liam Gillick (2016):

… art in its current forms is the product of a complex of events, constructed personas, and critical tendencies. It is fragmentary and increasingly subjective. Contemporary art is a repository for various recognitions and desires; at the same time, it may be defined by its self-conscious stand for and against other art. Contemporary art is a record of material facts derived from art intentions, and it often remains just out of reach of the artist and viewers while at the same time remaining lucid, simple, and easy to read.

[line break added] This is the heart of contemporary art’s challenge: a louche combination of clarity, resistance, reference, and subjectivity. And at the heart of contemporary art is the … combination of industry and intelligence … Neither industry nor intelligence implies or suggests anything about quality or aesthetics; these are philosophical concerns. Industry and intelligence can result in a conscious or unaffected clumsiness yet result in an intellectually complex web of references.

[line break added] From Andy Warhol to Andrea Fraser to Hito Steyerl, from Jackson Pollock to Felix Gonzalez-Torres to R.H. Quaytman, the one thread connecting these artists is their industry and intelligence in the face of what eludes representation and remains just out of reach. Industry and intelligence are not synonyms for hard work and skill — they are conditions of production under which contemporary art emerges, thrives, and resists.

Contemporary art endures. It survives because it is neither the product of a true academy nor an artist-critic-generated description of choice but rather a term that has for some time been a tolerable description for an increasingly wide range of art and artlike activity that cannot be completely captured by modernist or postmodernist accounts of visual art. Contemporary art is a leaky container that can accommodate many contradictory structures and desires.

[ … ]

… Art resides in power relations, speech acts, points of view, and extremely complicated semiotic games. Everything else is luster, hubris, or expressions of pious good taste.




April 26, 2017

The Jolt of Uneasy Recognition

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… a culture defined more by corporate commerce than community, where people lived with a modicum of comfort but in an atmosphere of vacant alienation.

This is from John Rohrbach’s introduction to Reframing the New Topographics edited by Greg Foster-Rice and John Rohrbach (2013):

… Why has this unassuming exhibition had such an enduring resonance that it was reconstructed in its entirety in 2009 and accompanied by a book of more than 300 pages? The reason lies not merely with the photographers’ stylistic break from their immediate predecessors; rather, the show’s longstanding influence lies in the jolt of uneasy recognition that it delivered.

[line break added] Like Paul Strand’s 1915 photographs of New York City, Walker Evans’s American Photographs (1938), and Robert Frank’s The Americans (1959), New Topographics counterpointed prevailing conceptions of contemporary American life with a new definition of the country’s condition that was instantly recognized to be insightfully, if disturbingly more true.

[line break added] For Strand, this redefinition entailed replacing Whitmanesque celebrations of the fast-expanding array of modern technological advances with overt recognition of the disjunctions of modern urban life. Through unnervingly close-up portraits of street people in Lower Manhattan and strongly angled urban views, Strand’s images proclaimed that the city was overwhelming human scale, engulfing and tossing aside those who could not adjust. Evans, in contrast, offset the prevailing mix of Rooseveltian “can-do” spirit and national urban-centered commercialism by pointing out the continuing power of the rural vernacular.

[line break added] Countering the proclamations of the “new,” Evans acknowledged the strength of the material past with all of its chips and wear. Twenty years later, Robert Frank assembled his own vivid counterpoint to the prevailing conception of contemporary life as defined by happy, white, nuclear families led by corporate men. Like his mentor Evans, he focused on the vernacular; but, where Evans had positioned people as foils to objects, Frank placed people front and center, encasing them in a patriotic, automotively transient, and ethnically and racially diverse national culture defined by exhaustion.

The New Topographics exhibition provided a vivid contribution to this developing portrait of the United States. With great efficiency and clarity, the show visually summarized the beginnings of America’s shift from an urban-industrial culture to a service-oriented economy defined by suburban warehouses and standardized tract house neighborhoods spreading out, especially across the West.

[line break added] This new America was marked by repetition and isolation, a place increasingly dominated by quickly constructed buildings and a culture defined more by corporate commerce than community, where people lived with a modicum of comfort but in an atmosphere of vacant alienation. The vision was so convincing that it instantly reshaped landscape photography with its celebration of directness, emotional remove, and attentiveness to humanity’s shaping of the land. Its perspective was so powerful that it still dominates landscape photography practice today.




April 25, 2017

A Large, Overall Enterprise

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… one’s whole life work is continually consummated in one’s mind.

This is from the 1960 interview with David Smith found in David Sylvester’s Interviews with American Artists (2001):

[ … ]

You do it all yourself, don’t you? I mean, you could now afford studio assistants.

Well, I can’t use studio assistants any more than Mondrian could have used assistants to paint in solid areas, or any more than de Kooning or any of my friends can use somebody else to put their backgrounds in, even though they might be pure white. They still don’t want the marks of another hand on their own work. Now, that is twentieth-century too — that is defensive in a certain way because it’s contradictory to this age. We are among the few people left who are making objects from start to finish.

From Sylvester’s interview with Franz Kline also in 1960:

[ … ]

But there is no sort of preconception as to what the thing ought to be?

No. Except — except paint never seems to behave the same. Even the same paint doesn’t, you know. In other words, if you use the same white or black or red, through the use of it, it never seems to be the same. It doesn’t dry the same. It doesn’t stay there and look at you the same way. Other things seem to affect it. There seems to be something that you can do so much with paint and after that you start murdering it.

[line break added] There are moments or periods when it would be wonderful to plan something and do it and have the thing only do what you planned to do, and then, there are other times when the destruction of those planned things becomes interesting to you. So then, it becomes a question of destroying — of destroying the form; it’s like an escape, it’s something to do; something to begin the situation. You yourself, you don’t decide, but if you want to paint you have to find out some way to start this thing off, whether it’s painting it out or putting it in, and so on.

From the interview with Robert Motherwell in the same year:

[ … ]

You don’t, for example, have any idea before you start a painting whether the forms are going to be packed fairly tightly or whether it’s going to be rather open and spacious, so to speak?

In my case, I find a blank canvas so beautiful that to work immediately in relation to how beautiful the canvas is as such, is inhibiting and, for me, demands too much too quickly; so that my tendency is to get the canvas ‘dirty,’ so to speak, in one way or another, and then, so to speak, ‘work in reverse’ and try to bring it back to an equivalent of the original clarity and perfection of the canvas that one began on.

[ … ]

… But it’s not merely a specific painting that one’s working on. It’s also that one’s whole life work is continually consummated in one’s mind. And to some extent, the works of other people. So that, except when one’s asleep (and maybe even in one’s dreams), one is constantly reflecting, contemplating, shifting, having flashes of clarity and so on. So that I wouldn’t say at all that I start a canvas, and then finish it, and when the time comes, send it to one of my dealers to be sold.

[line break added] But that it’s maybe like the farmers’ year, where there’s storms, and there’s spring and there’s summer, and you don’t know whether certain things are going to come up or not. Certain things come up much better than you had expected, and vice versa. But looking at the whole year, a year later, you can think, yes, 1959 was a very good year, or, no, 1959 was a year when I was stopped, blocked, confused. But nevertheless, each particular work for me is a specific moment or a specific embodiment of a large, overall enterprise.




April 24, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:00 am

… You’re in this for the long haul and in the end it’s you who has to live with what you produce in your work.

This is from John Stezaker’s chapter in Akademie X: Lessons in Art + Life (2015):

… I believe in the importance of seclusion and indolence in the creation of art. Art needs to find a space to hide. It thrives in dusty neglected atrophied spaces. In a sense, one could say it needs educational dysfunction: it needs neglect. How often have important developments in art come out of groups of students taking control of their own aesthetic agenda in the absence of a strong educational program? Modern education, in attempting conscientiously to create a miniature version of the exhibiting world awaiting its prospective artists, inadvertently betrays the possibility of art, which as Maurice Blanchot insists, comes out of an “exile from life.”

From Stephanie Syjuco’s chapter:

[ … ]


This is at the top of the list for a reason — namely, because it’s so easy to make things that look like art, act like art, get sold like art, yet in the end aren’t really art, but are phantoms, mere commodities or quantifiable, digestible sound bites. And unfortunately, you’ll be encouraged to do this. In general, these are the things that art schools and the art world push you to make because they’re legible and can be spoken of in ways that make sense to everyone: collectors and curators alike. This ‘art’ has the correct visual markers and can slip easily into exhibitions and catalogue entries.

[line break added] At first, it seems really exciting to play this game, and it could get you a lot of mileage if you play it right, but in the end, these are really boring things that don’t have a lot of depth to them. Try to resist this approach, because it’s unsatisfying in the long run. Be prepared to be unpopular, unclassifiable and perhaps even out-of-date in terms of what others (and this includes the market) desire of your art. You’re in this for the long haul and in the end it’s you who has to live with what you produce in your work.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




April 23, 2017

But Not Myself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… My time and my space are the time and space of an author, and not those of a hero.

Continuing through the essay ‘Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity’ in Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov (1990):

… The values that pertain to the existence of a qualitative determinate person are characteristic only of the other. It is only with the other that I have the possibility of experiencing the joy of meeting and abiding with him, the sorrow of parting and the grief of bereavement; it is only with him that I can meet in the dimension of time as well as part in the dimension of time; only he can be as well as not be for me. I am always with myself — there can be no life for me without myself.

… When the existence of the other has incontrovertibly and conclusively determined the fundamental plot or storyline of my own life; when the boundaries of the other’s valuable existence/nonexistence have been wholly encompassed by my own boundaries, which are never given to me myself and which are in principle incapable of being experienced by me; when the other has been experienced (temporally encompassed) by me from his natus est anno Domini to his mortuus est anno Domini — it becomes unmistakably evident that my own life sounds altogether different to me myself than does the life of another; it becomes distinctly evident that my own life, within its own context, lacks any aesthetic weight with respect to plot or storyline and that its value and meaning are located on a completely different axiological plane.

[line break added] I am in myself the condition of possibility for my own life, but I am not its valuable hero. I am not capable of experiencing the emotionally consolidated time that encompasses me, just as I am not capable of experiencing the space that encompasses me. My time and my space are the time and space of an author, and not those of a hero. In such time and space, I can be aesthetically active, but not aesthetically passive, in relation to the other whom they encompass; I can aesthetically justify and consummate the other in such time and space, but not myself.

My most recent previous post from Bakhtin’s book is here.




April 22, 2017

Every Last Thing

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… for what I wanted was every last thing, every layer of speech and thought, stroke of light on bark or walls, every smell, pothole, pain, crack, delusion, held still and held together — radiant, everlasting.

This is from Alice Munro’s chapter in The Other Side of Dailiness: Photography in the Works of Alice Munro, Timothy Findley, Michael Ondaatje, and Margaret Laurence by Lorraine M. York (1988):

… Rose, the heroine of Who Do You Think You Are?, argues for a vision which is neither shuttered nor peripheral. Remembering the mentally retarded girl who was raped by her brother in the schoolyard, Rose angrily upbraids “[m]en who made books and movies” featuring “the figure of an idiotic, saintly whore,” because “[t]hey cheated … when they left out the breathing and the spit and the teeth … ” A vision of life cannot exclude ugliness and pain; as the young girl in “Boys and Girls” comments on the shooting of a farm horse, “It was not something I wanted to see; just the same, if a thing really happened, it was better to see it, and know.”

Del Jordon, in Lives of Girls and Women, only gradually develops this photographic vision. As a child, Del both desires and fears to witness manifestations of evil or death. The dead cow in the pasture fascinates her, yet on the day of her Uncle Craig’s funeral, the dead body is like a “black dot” in a maze which she is desperately trying to avoid. Similarly, Del is curiously drawn to the madness and depravity of Uncle Benny’s wife, Madeleine, yet when she passes the local bootlegger’s house, she is terrified to behold a house which “seemed to embody so much that was evil and mysterious that I would never look at it directly … ”

[line break added] Later, Del neglects to look directly at her lover Garnet, ignoring the violent streak in him which reasserts itself during the “Baptizing” episode. Even at the end of the epilogue, Del say: “At present I did not look much at this town.” Nevertheless, as she listens to Bobby Sherriff, she fixes her gaze on the back wall of a nearby building and notes “certain stains, chipped bricks, a long crack running down diagonally … ” Here is the genesis of the full and honest vision of which Rose speaks. Only from the perspective of the future, however, do we see this mature vision in Del:

And no list could hold what I wanted, for what I wanted was every last thing, every layer of speech and thought, stroke of light on bark or walls, every smell, pothole, pain, crack, delusion, held still and held together — radiant, everlasting.

… The inevitable result of this all-inclusive, photographic vision is paradox. The world becomes at once ugly and beautiful, familiar and strange, innocent and threatening.

… One of the most consistent and glaring paradoxes in Munro’s work is the fact that ordinary objects may inspire both reverence and suspicion. In “Images,” Del’s description of her father’s boots is both a celebration and a revelation:

His boots were to me as unique and familiar, as much an index to himself as his face was. When he had taken them off they stood in a corner of the kitchen, giving off a complicated smell of manure, machine oil, caked black mud, and the ripe and disintegrating material that lined their soles. They were a part of himself, temporarily discarded, waiting.

… In Lives of Girls and Women, the photograph of Marion Sherriff which hangs in the main hall of the school reveals a “stocky and unsmiling” girl holding a tennis racket, but conceals the mystery of her subsequent suicide. One is reminded of the concern with surfaces and depths shown in the earliest North American novel to deal with photography as a metaphor, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables (1851), in which Holgrave, the photographer, comments on his daguerreotypes: “There is a wonderful insight in heaven’s broad and simple sunshine. While we give it credit only for depicting the merest surface, it actually brings out the secret character with a truth that no painter would ever venture upon, even if he could detect it.”

… The narrator [in Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You] knows the truth about [her ex-husband’s] insecurities, such as his hatred of dentists; she knows all of the “lies, the half-lies, the absurdities” which make up Hugo’s personality. Noting the checked wool shirt and the undershirt which Hugo sports in this photograph [in a book of his short stories], the narrator senses that Hugo is attempting to create a false image of the writer aas a carefree lumberjack. Indignantly, she orders us to “[l]ook at Hugo’s picture, look at the undershirt,” and to compare the façade which we see there and in Hugo’s pretentious author’s “blurb” with the insecure and domineering man she knew in the past.

Munro’s acute consciousness of human transience is closely connected with yet anther paradox in her art — the paradox of control and helplessness, fixity and flux. As she commented to Graeme Gibson about her writing: “With me it has something to do with the fight against death, the feeling that we lose everything every day, and writing is a way of convincing yourself perhaps that you’re doing something about this. You’re not really, because the writing itself does not last much longer than you do … “




April 21, 2017

Fill in the Blanks

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… I suppose I am tiring of chatter about people’s lives/problems. … Too much information to use; too much confession.

This is ‘Black Curtain’ (1970) found in More Than You Wanted to Know About John Baldessari Vol. 1 (2013):

The video screen is considered as a painting ground. The camera is continuously focused upon a black plastic curtain that moves imperceptively because of a slight breeze thus causing minor shifts in the dark-light ratio.

As a result of the mimimal visual information offered, attention is focused upon the ambient studio noise — a radio playing, people talking, and etc.

I think Baldessari meant imperceptibly rather than imperceptively in the above, but I give it as I find it in the text.

Next is ‘Walking Forward — Running Past’ (1971):

Sequential color photographs of two actions in two directions are pinned to a wall and removed one at a time. It is an equivocal action that locates in the territory between still photography and movies/video. The sound of breathing can be related to the action of mounting the photographs or to the actions they depict.

Moving into Vol. 2 of this two volume collection, the following is ‘Car Color Series’ (1976):

Color as a memory. At various times, I would quickly shoot a color sample of each car parked along a city block. Always the same section of the car — the center of the door. It is the syntax of colors that is important and not a well-composed photograph. One might call them “street sentences.” They are installed in the order that the cars are parked and if there is a vacant space on the street, there is a vacant space on the wall.

In the 1968 Volvo, Dirty and Polished piece, the idea is the condition of the color. The unpolished shot is sprayed matt and the polished shot is on glossy paper.

Last, for today is part of ‘Alfred from Berlin’ (1979):

… I suppose I am tiring of chatter about people’s lives/problems. An age where I know more than I care to about people. Too much information to use; too much confession. And usually multi-track sound. I longed for something simple …

Lists give as much information as novels. Consider: boy/girl/tractor as a Russian novel. Perhaps as much information as one needs and quite possibly as interesting as a novel. The creator shouldn’t have so much ego that it is forgotten there is a sophisticated audience out there that can participate and fill in the blanks.

My most recent previous post from Baldessari’s book is here.




April 20, 2017

Every New Phase of Taste Has Only One Origin

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… every new phase of taste has only one origin and that is seeing.

This is from ‘Modern Evaluations’ found in The Shape of Content by Ben Shahn (1957; 1985):

… It had not occurred to me to question the finality of Academy authority until an occasion arose on which I was asked to help hang an exhibition of paintings by Academy Greats. Carrying the works to and from the jurors, I was impressed and troubled by my own dissociation from anything that I saw among the pictures.

[line break added] There were the still lifes: the Buddha against a piece of Chinese drapery, the highlight flicked in smartly on its green-blue glaze; there were the barns, the hay-mows, the girl with wind-blown hair; there were the boats, fishing-smacks at Gloucester and other rocky coastal paradises that I had never seen. There were the cows knee-deep in water that always reflected some bit of purple distance.

I hadn’t seen a cow since I had been a very small child in Russia. Could I ever paint such scenes? I thought not.

And was there no more to art?

My growing critical attitude was probably defensive. But it was also becoming fortified by constant visits to museums and by the reading of everything that I could find concerning art.

It is not necessary to trace here the numerous changes that my own taste or anyone else’s undergoes in order to make the point that every new phase of taste has only one origin and that is seeing. In Italy I found the Florentines and the Sienese and Found Taddeo Gaddi again; and this great discovery gave way to the ferment and the myriad finalities that were Paris.

[line break added] Each of these turns seemed real at the time, and vital. And, the truth is, I believe that they were so. For their values are not to be dismissed in the light of some super-value, some transcendent criterion according to which temporal values rise and fall. Their values rest on the profound attachments to their own criteria and their own goals.

If any single kind of value or evaluation has tended to survive the many tides and reversals of taste, belief and dogma, I imagine that value consists in some vague striving for truth. The beliefs in what constitutes truth change with every generation, with each new great preacher or teacher or cataclysmic discovery or deep revelation through art or music or drama or poetry.

[line break added] Whatever our momentary concept of it may be, it seems as though truth itself is that objective which awakens the purest passion in man, which stimulates his mind and calls forth his heroic endeavors. It is in pursuit of truth perhaps that we are able to sacrifice present values and move on to new ones. And I am sure that is it most often in the light of what we believe to be truth that we criticize negatively or reject the values of others.

My most recent previous post from Shahn’s book is here.




April 19, 2017

Denatured and Parodistic Color

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… most young photographers who had come to art world notice had entered a conceptual phase that had nothing to do with the act of witness, let alone a concern with the life of their city.

Continuing through New York: Capital of Photography by Max Kozloff (2002):

… The discovery that New York indeed exists in color coincided with an apparent rise in the fortunes of photography in the cultural establishment. By the mid-1970s, dealers, collectors, museum curators, professors, and critics were belatedly realizing that the photographic image was the primary means of visual communication in the twentieth century. In the 1950s, a print, even by an acknowledged master photographer, would not have fetched more than fifty dollars.

[line break added] Now, by dint of its own substantial history, and thanks to John Szarkowski’s enlightened support for both vernacular and Modernist photography at the Museum of Modern Art, the medium came under intense, excited scrutiny in the American press as well as the academy. Within the space of only a few months, both Newsweek and Artforum devoted special issues to photography.

[line break added] How, asked academics, were groups represented by outsiders, and what were the uses of photography as an instrument of corporate or government power? What was the relation of the image to the event pictured? The undeniable function of photographs within the media, and yet their problematic artistic qualities, made them a slippery, and for that reason irresistible, subject for new study.

It turned out that photographic studies took two divergent directions. One examined photographic images from the viewpoint of formalist aesthetics. The other was more attuned with 1970s developments such as the advent of identity politics, the women’s movement, multiculturalism, and the appropriation of commercial media — above all photographic media — by artists in the gallery world.

… Photographic color was as a matter of course associated with hype. The galleries’ photo-artists had no trouble turning the luscious palette of commercial photography into something lurid or murky. This denatured and parodistic color established a distance that separated the artists from their sources, not for expressive so much as for polemical reasons. Bruce Davidson, adept in the use of glamorous color for corporate reports, employed in Subway hypersaturated, abrasive chroma that negates distance for the sake of his personal account.

… most young photographers who had come to art world notice had entered a conceptual phase that had nothing to do with the act of witness, let alone a concern with the life of their city. The immemorial New York of legend was retired without notice and not even on half-pension.

My most recent previous post from Kozloff’s book is here.




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