PAINTING - edited by Terry R. Myers, 2011: MIT&Whitechapel

PAINTING - edited by Terry R. Myers, 2011: MIT&Whitechapel

Postby CAP » Tue May 31, 2011 4:51 am

Don’t bother. 240 pages, without so much as a single reproduction, excepting the cover. In a book supposedly about painting, this is not a good look and it’s certainly not a good method. It’s an anthology of fifty short articles by mostly ‘name’ critics and artists on the value of painting but not a particularly focussed or useful one. It starts with The End of Painting by Douglas Crimp (1981) and wends its way along to Painting Beside Itself by David Joselit (2009), drifting into photography at one stage (Howard Halle on Gursky), video (Ulricke Groos on Paul McCarthy) a film script (Schnabel on Basquiat) and items from the catalogue of Jim’s Shaw’s collection of amateur paintings. So it doesn’t exactly have rigour going for it, either. Myers is essentially a dutiful but dull critic and the potted selection spells out his tastes and times, but hardly provides an adequate framework for the free-ranging discussion gathered, nor justifies a number of surprising omissions from artists discussed.

Just how, for example, the fact that painting ‘has always belonged to networks of distribution and exhibition’ bears upon the value of painting goes unexplained, either in Myers’ introduction or Joselit’s confused essay on context in the work of Martin Kippenberger and colleagues. Similarly, Halle’s claim that painting doesn’t need paint; goes unexamined, while cases for expanded materials for painting can blur the line between painting and sculpture or print, but if these are taken to be a crucial tendency, then there’s not much point writing a book about painting and little to be gained in noting them as exceptions. The fact is, Myers struggles to define painting, to supply anything like a coherent history for it and this proves a singular handicap in selecting texts on the subject.

Notable painters of the past ten years, such as Matthew Ritchie, Jules de Balincourt, Peter Doig, Frank Nitsche, Odili Donald Odita, Daniel Richter, Neo Rauch and Dana Schutz scarcely rate a mention. Older artists such as Anselm Kiefer, Francesco Clemente, Manuel Ocampo, Brice Marden, Therese Oulton and Fiona Rae are ignored. Although, to be fair, Myers offers a paragraph on his reaction to Neo Rauch’s first New York show in 2000, (Meyers 2011:18) hastily summoning German ascendance in the art world, in which Rauch’s significance lies with German reunification in 1989. But typically, he can say nothing about the New Leipzig School style or ‘painting’ – why it is so striking – how it differs from preceding trends, such as the work of Kippenberger and Oehlen and finally plumps for compromise or ‘coalition’ as a favoured strategy, for not much more than the oxymoron that tradition consists of a series of linked breaks. Phew!

His introductory essay starts from another old chestnut, “painting is dead”, announced by minor French painter Paul Delaroche, supposedly, upon learning of the daguerreotype in 1839. Of course, the cry was not taken up by artists or critics generally and photography’s acceptance as a print form takes some time, much less rivalry for painting. Actually, painting comfortably assimilates the influence of photography and persists; prints of all kinds enjoy fluctuating prestige, critically, commercially. But for Meyers it is enough that October stalwart, Douglas Crimp argued for new prominence for photography in the early 1980s, by dismissing painting. Crimp’s The End of Painting has to be the most over-rated and over-cited art criticism, ever. For a good stretch of it, he defends the French painter Daniel Buren against criticism by old-school Minimalist advocate, Barbara Rose, taking the ideological high ground against Rose’s supposedly bourgeois humanism and absolutism, all the time fantasizing about how radical the sixties were, man. But this is really just formalism arguing with content, the cultural relativist shadow-boxing with the classicist. Comrade Crimp is strong on politics, weak on art history. He can argue that artists defected in droves from painting to photography (Meyers 2011:27) but can’t explain why so many remain painting, why painting finds so many new avenues and acceptance, even as photography flourishes. Photography may have prospered in the late 70s, but it demonstrably was not at the expense of painting, to any significant extent. Death takes more than a death certificate.

The End of Painting was a rash and ill-conceived criticism and sets an unfortunate tone for Meyers’ book. Meyers wants to agree, ‘no one could argue that painting captures our attention as it has in the past...’ (Meyers 2011:12) but promptly hedges – ‘It is important to be clear that I am not totally convinced of this…’ (Meyers 2011:13) From which, one can only conclude Meyers is just such a ‘no one’. Nor is he prepared to do the spadework – historical or logical - to support either position. Instead, he settles for something like an historical survey of criticism concerned with painting, for the past thirty years. But as noted, the selections beg qualification, score high on political correctness, with generous nods to feminism, Asia and the third world but low on any sort of theoretical framework within which to relate his material. Myers is known mostly for his artist monographs (Doig, Dalwood, Heilmann, Lichtenstein, Rosen and Zucker) and criticism in Art Forum, Brooklyn Rail, Afterall and Parkette. So he’s in the loop, a bit of a trendy Wendy and diplomat. He also holds teaching positions in L.A. and Chicago, when not roving abroad, promoting the brand, so he’s always going to be ‘more kiss-ass than kick-ass,’ as Americans say. Oddly, the book is published by MIT press and Whitechapel Gallery. I can’t think why Whitechapel would want to get involved with this sort of dross, but perhaps it’s been earmarked as a required text for students or the basis for an exhibition. I hope not.
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Re: PAINTING - edited by Terry R. Myers, 2011: MIT&Whitechap

Postby CAP » Fri Jun 03, 2011 3:50 pm

I toyed with writing a ‘straight’ review of this book for another, more respected site (they invite submissions). But in the end I decided against it. I suppose blogging has spoilt me, the promise of open source sites, like this one, is too much of a temptation. I would rather rant here, straight from the heart to no more than a handful, than mince my words for so many mice. The fact is this book’s a waste of time. It’s pretending to be something more than a lazy collection of well-known critics and artists vaguely talking about painting as a way of talking about themselves, and that everyone’s supposed to accept for prestige value. It’s cult worship really. You’re not going to learn anything about painting there. At best, you can start to hear Lari Pittman say something and get interrupted or sidetracked or realise how inarticulate Bernard Frize is anyway, or what a pretentious idiot Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe is, or be amused as Svetlana Alpers quietly dismantles Matthew Collings’ babbling pronouncements. But this is not really getting the job done. These are just endless tangents from a mirage of a subject.

Do I run the risk of libel or slander? Probably. But that’s a risk you’re supposed to calculate and take. That’s the excitement - for reader and writer. WWR excuses itself in the initial agreement, so they’re in the clear. Am I worth prosecuting? I’m so poor it would cost more in lawyers’ fees than anyone could ever recover, so probably not. They could send me to jail but I practically live there anyway. Bring it on, Nazis!

What is it about art that cows so many academics and administrators? They would actually prefer not to know the damage, not to be honest with each other, to deny follies rather than acknowledge or correct them. People used to say this was the problem with print criticism – too compromised, too cosy and courteous – thankfully there’s always the web. But the same pattern emerges on the web, with everyone jockeying for favour, trying to sound like they run a department or museum, terribly responsible and pompous. Careful with that grant/tenure/sponsorship, Eugene. Am I here to fucking tear their little playhouse down? Well I didn’t come here for that. I came to make a few points that are perfectly valid and need making, if we’re to take art seriously. Professionally, seriously.

If you really want the career, guys, then let’s get real. But at a certain point you realise, well they’re not listening, what’s the point, really? If you’re an outsider, what’s the point addressing insiders? I suppose the hope is that sooner or later someone notices, someone gets curious about the lack of actual substance to the emperor’s clothes, his party of vampires and their press releases. They start to look where they oughtn’t, where they least expect it and find they can join the dots there, read along the lines, see the strings. Before they know it a whole doll’s house is collapsing making so much more room, so much more sense.
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Re: PAINTING - edited by Terry R. Myers, 2011: MIT&Whitechap

Postby jasperjoffe » Fri Jun 03, 2011 7:53 pm

hmmm... Your postscript made me feel blue. But t aint that bad out there. The suckups and careerists will suck and career on, and artists will keep trying.
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ps

Postby jasperjoffe » Fri Jun 03, 2011 7:58 pm

The site is getting 150,000 hits a month but I am not sure how many actual real readers that is!
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Re: PAINTING - edited by Terry R. Myers, 2011: MIT&Whitechap

Postby CAP » Sun Jun 05, 2011 5:23 am

Wish I shared your faith in hit counters, JJ. My experience is it's all about the counting and when and how 'a hit' is counted. Over the years, I tried about 5 different counters on CAP - all delivering wildly varying numbers - depending on how they distribute hits within their count (a range of sites), depending on how they define 'a hit' in any case. I see the same averaging at work on WWR as posts within a section all get a progressive and proportional increase, as well as individual additions. I submit this is about the hits being distributed as part of a counter's statistical formula.

Not that hits are really that important to me! I'm looking more at the numbers of participants on WWR, and concluding these are just a handful :cry:
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Re: PAINTING - edited by Terry R. Myers, 2011: MIT&Whitechap

Postby CAP » Sun Jun 05, 2011 8:02 am

To take another screaming example of lameness – on the back cover it proclaims a long list of artists ‘surveyed’ in the book and includes Sigmar Polke (understandably) – except that the only entry on Polke I can find is a brief exchange (perhaps a quarter of a page) between Robert Storr and French Curator and international poseur, Catherine David, concerning her selection for the (1997?) Documenta. The gist of which goes something like this –

Storr – So what’s the deal with painting in the 90s, Cath?
David – It’s dead Rob. It’s all down to Koons and that fabrication shit now. I AM SO ON IT!
Storr – What about Richter?
David – Well yeah Richter’s still cool. He’s fireproof these days. But you know, deconstruction, what’s left to say? That’s so 80s.
Storr - What about Polke?
David – Hey - he wouldn’t do the paperwork Rob. So he doesn’t make the team.
Storr – He was prepared to submit works, but not ‘a proposal’, right?
David – You got it. What a Nazi.
Storr – Maybe he thought that was the curator’s job?
David – Well he thought wrong.
Storr – It’s pretty hard to talk about painting in the 90s without Polke, though.
David – Just as well I’m not talking about painting then, isn’t it?
Storr – So how come Pittman, Marshall (Kerry James) and Ryman are in there?
David – They did the paperwork, Rob. And basically they make it for their content.
Storr – So if they’d worked in photography or photo-montage, with the same content, there’d be no difference for you?
David – Like I’d notice. It’s all gonna be the same in my catalogue anyway. Am I right, big guy?
Storr – You’re really into the social programme thing, aren’t you, Cath?
David – In my other life I’m a social worker, Rob, but strictly top-down.
Storr – So I see.
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Re: PAINTING - edited by Terry R. Myers, 2011: MIT&Whitechap

Postby jasperjoffe » Sun Jun 05, 2011 12:01 pm

Have you made this book up as well as this exchange!?
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Re: PAINTING - edited by Terry R. Myers, 2011: MIT&Whitechap

Postby CAP » Sun Jun 05, 2011 12:52 pm

No, the book is real, sadly. Its ISBN 978-0-262-51567-2, published by MIT press Cambridge, Massachusetts and Whitechapel Galery Ventures Ltd - www.whitechapelgallery.org - distributed by Central Books (www.centralbooks.com).

My paraphrased and abbreviated version of the dialogue between Storr and David is drawn from pp 118-120.

8-)
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