Sunday, June 10, 2012

Duchamp's Uninformed Followers

God Protect me From Duchamp's Followers To paraphrase the above saying by Oscar Wilde's seems appropriate when we reflect on why Marcel Duchamp refused to be considered as the godfather of Pop Art, Neo-Dada, happenings, etc. He actually called Pop Art "Pup Art" and is on the record saying that none of this should be assigned to his influence, or to Dada. I have thought about this since reading these quotes by Duchamp back in the late 1960's and finally realized what he meant. The Dadaists did their protest as artists and writers who, because of War I and other horrors of the early 20th Century, turned fine art into low art. Duchamp's LHOOQ re-working of the Mona Lisa is a prime example. Fine art into low brow culture as a protest. However, his self-declared progeny from Warhol to all the grant-supported conceptualists of today, the loyal opposition to the fine art system, are doing the exact opposite. They are trying to turn popular culture, advertising logos and so on into fine art, which they can sell to museums and collectors. It's the exact opposite of what Duchamp and his colleagues were doing in their time. Also the ban placed on painting in the decades since his death wouldn't totally please him. His supposed disdain for painting is clarified by what he told André Derain after WW I. He told him he stopped painting because he had run out of ideas. He thought that the world had enough decorative paintings and was holding out for something new. But at the same time he was best friends with the major painters of the Surrealist Movement and helped design their exhibitions through the decades along with André Breton. Amy Ernst, the granddaughter of the great German artist Max Ernst, told me that Max, Duchamp and Picasso played chess by mail for twenty-five years. What would all the 'socially engaged' artists who conform to the rules of today's institutionalized subversion say about this? Here is the arch-fiend of all things politically incorrect, Pablo Picasso, actually right there on good terms with the figurehead of the 'ban painting' movement of today. There's Max Ernst right beside him too. He was also against formalist painting that was mainly about paint surfaces and not the poetic imagination that Breton called for. But surely Duchamp could be counted on by today's post-structural theorists to side with Man Ray, his oldest friend and back up this false, anti-painting lineage. Man Ray in fact is on the record saying that his paintings were his main contribution, that photography was mainly a way he made money in the 1920's and '30's. His technical discoveries, fascinating as they may have been then, like photograms, were also done by Moholy Nagy and others and 'solarization' was at least partly discovered by Lee Miller. So as the academies churn out classes full of Duchamp devotees waiting for a grant to pile stuff around the floor in homage to him, might do well to consider where Duchamp's true sympathies lay.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

William Baziotes

From The Artist and His Mirror:

"When the demagogues of art call on you to make the good art, the intelligible art, the social art, spit down on them and go back to your dreams, your mirror and the World."

Pnina Granirer: Imagination Games

The fact that a senior artist, mainly known for paintings, prints and mixed media works can turn out such an up to the minute exhibition of digital photographic works was a revelation to me. Pnina Granirer's Imagination Games shows us that the so-called Vancouver School of Photo-Based Art has a rival in an artist trained in the old world art academies in the mid-20th century who has resisted their arid, theory-laden approach to create these works which are every bit as contemporary.

This difference in approach reminds me of the statement by French art historian, José Pierre, writing in his 1979 book, Surréalisme: "Today it is a fact that the art market has placed itself almost to a man under the flag of a dominant ideology… American Minimal Art, and its paler European imitations, only accord favour to painting which is only painting, that is to say that which forbids any modulation, vibration, emotion, form, any manifestation of the sensitive and even more of the unconscious and of myth. This admirable conjugation of puritan iconoclasm, of neo-positivist empiricism and of Wall Street is sometimes - like the olive in a dry martini- accompanied by a pinch of Maoist ideology." Granirer never bought into that school and stayed true to her roots.

But now she has turned out to have her own, equally contemporary approach to photographic art. By using photo editing software, Granirer alters and recombines street scenes that she photographed in Mexico a few years back. She realigns the streets, invents new perspectives and creates new colours for the poignant village streets she photographed. They make a spell binding installation.

What struck me as a strong point is also a source of some irony. Knowing of Granirer's less than favourable opinion of American minimalism and conceptual art, movements she has had nothing to do with while blazing her own trails in the west coast rainforest, it is worth noting the strong compositional element in this series. The repetitive elements in the imagery she has digitally collaged into existence remind me in a way of geometric minimalist painting or sculpture. The strong vertical edges of the old buildings give the pieces a bold framework that supports the lyrical atmosphere and the poetic transformations she has created.

What is different from a lot of minimalist or conceptual photography is the sense of the poetic. Granirer's geometry shows us the "manifestation of the sensitive" Pierre spoke of, in a new series that puts the lie to assumptions about photo based art in Vancouver's fractious artistic scene.

At the Sidney And Gertrude Zack Gallery, 950 W. 41st, Vancouver, until March 4,2012