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Archive for the ‘Bullshit Art’ Category

Shamma, Aivazovsky, Kuczyński, and the $45,000,000 “Blue Rectangle on Yellow Rectangle”

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Moonlight on the Bosphorus – Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky




Yellow Rectangle Blue Rectangle:  On May 13, 2015, Mark Rothko sold a painting, “Untitled (Yellow and Blue),” for excess of $45 million dollars. The (un)title speaks for itself, and I’ve expressed my sentiment here:  Rothko vs. Nature.


The Aesthetic:  Exquisite craft, talent, and a unique vision. Rothko arguably had the latter. To contrast, consider Damascus born Sara Shamma, the Polish artist Pawel Kuczyński, and the Russian Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky.

From Diaspora – Sara Shamma


Written by Caleb Powell

July 17, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Mark Rothko vs. Nature

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David Shields and Caleb Powell arguing over Rothko and nature, from the film I Think You're Totally Wrong  - photo courtesy Rabbit Bandini Productions

David Shields and Caleb Powell, at Lake Arrowhead, debate the qualities of nature and art, from the film I Think You’re Totally Wrong – photo courtesy Rabbit Bandini Productions

David Shields on Mark Rothko:  “I listened to a tour guide at the National Gallery ask his group what made Rothko great. Someone said, ‘The colors are beautiful.’ Someone else mentioned how many books and articles had been written about him. A third person pointed out how much people had paid for his paintings. The tour guide said, ‘Rothko is great because he forced artists who came after him to change how they thought about painting.’ This is the single most useful definition of artistic greatness I’ve ever encountered.” – from Reality Hunger

Rothko21 Rothkos:  Rothko may well have changed how artists think. Good thing? Take a look at the 21 Rothkos on the right, all replications of the same concept. Rothko had modest skills, above average talent, but recognized his lack. He chose the path of “Look at me! I’m different!” Variety has a place, but.

From Pollock to Frankenthaler to Eva Hess to Jeff Koons to Tracey Emin, Rothko led chunks of the art world  into both riches and a pretentious mess (See the $45,000,000 rectangle.) For every Rothko there are thousands aspiring for Egregious Difference and deadening the world. And that’s how Rothko changed art.

A Thousand Words:  Enough words, let the pictures speak.

Written by Caleb Powell

November 2, 2014 at 8:03 am

The Shirts of Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell vs. Jackson Pollock

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血洗净城 - Blood Washes the Capital

血洗京城 – Blood Washes the Capital (鄧 =Deng Xiaoping)

“WHAT makes an artist great? Brilliant composition, no doubt. Superb draughtsmanship, certainly. Originality of subject or of concept, sometimes. But surely true greatness means that the creator of a painting has brought a certain je ne sais quoi to the work as well.”The Economist

In the tradition of Chimpanzee or not Chimpanzee, I’ve assembled  Jackson Pollocks. Certainly no child, chimp, or artist could replicate them? Or could they? Pollock’s defenders often claim that his works cannot be replicated. And to the naked eye this may be so, but what about the discerning critic, specifically, the art collector willing to pay millions of dollars to own an original. Well, turns out Pollock can be copied to the extent that even the “experts” can be fooled.

Yankee Pot Roast:  If Jackson Pollock Wrote Poetry.

The Economist: “(The) art market pretends that great artists are inimitable, and that this inimitability justifies the often absurd prices their work commands. Most famous artists are good: that is not in question. But as forgers like van Meegeren and Pei-Shen Qian, the painter who turned out Ms Rosales’s Rothkos and Pollocks, show, they are very imitable indeed…Expensive pictures are primarily what economists call positional goods—things that are valuable largely because other people can’t have them…Ms Rosales’s career is thus a searing social commentary on a business which purports to celebrate humanity’s highest culture but in which names are more important than aesthetics and experts cannot tell the difference between an original and a fake. Unusual, authentic, full of meaning—her life itself is surely art, even if the paintings were not.”

Go ahead! Click and pick your Pollocks. To finish this mini-jeremiad on abstract work, I offer an abstract conclusion:  Pollocks may be more valuable or interesting than the T-shirts of Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell, but the T-shirts have gone much further on less.



Chimpanzee or not Chimpanzee?

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Picasso’s “lyrical abstract impressionist” Congo

Here’s the question:  Who painted what? Chimp or human?

The Humane Society caretakers have judiciously prepared their apes for a competition, and the six finalists have been announced:  Jamie, Jenny, Cheetah, Brent, Ripley, and Patti. Their work is displayed along with “Picasso’s Chimp,”  Congo, whose work Picasso hung in his studio.

These seven primates shall battle seven of the finest abstract expressionists of our modern times.

The Seven:  Willem de Kooning,  Friedel Dzubas, Helen Frankenthaler, Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell, Robert Motherwell, and Peter Upward.

But first, a few words:

1.  This has been done before!  Painter spoofs, with paintings stuck side by side with children’s art or elephant dung or paint spillage, are not original. Why do it, then? ‘Cause it’s fun.

2.  A chimpanzee can’t paint without human help.  True. A chimp cannot construct material, brushes, or dyes, not to mention guidance.

3.  Chimps don’t have to compete in the ugly world of galleries and critics. Everyone loves chimps. Yes, we’re biased, we root for chimps.

4.  Human appreciation:  The trained artist, critic, student has an advantage. They see technique apes cannot replicate with their clumsy opposing thumbs lacking human dexterity.

It should be an unfair competition, right? Click on any picture to find out who painted what.

(Artist bios taken from Wiki or Wiki-like pages.)

Willem de Kooning:  (April 24, 1904 – March 19, 1997) Dutch American abstract expressionist artist, born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. His style Abstract expressionism or Action painting, and he was part artist group known as the New York School. Others included Jackson Pollock, Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Kline, Arshile Gorky, Mark Rothko, Motherwell, and Clyfford Still. In 2011 de Kooning’s work was honored with a retrospective exhibition at MoMA.

Friedel Dzubas: (April 20, 1915 – 1994) German-born American abstract painter, studied art before fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 to New York City. In Manhattan shared a studio with Helen Frankenthaler, began exhibiting his Abstract expressionist paintings, included in the Ninth Street Show in New York City in 1951, and in group exhibitions at the Leo Castelli gallery, the Stable Gallery, and the Tibor de Nagy Gallery among others.

Franz Kline:  (May 23, 1910 – May 13, 1962) with other Abstract Expressionists, such as de Kooning and Rothko, Kline sought to maintain a stylistic development, including works from 1959 to 1961 known as the ‘wall paintings’, that echo the monumentality of later paintings by Clyfford Still or Robert Motherwell. He introduced a full range of colour, black-and-white paintings retained traces of sombre hues, Kline’s strident palette he had largely eschewed since the later 1940s. His influence on the second generation of gestural painters was substantial, and his works comprise some of the most imposing achievements of Abstract Expressionism.

Helen Frankenthaler: (December 12, 1928 – December 27, 2011) Frankenthaler began exhibiting large-scale abstract expressionist paintings in museums and galleries in the 1950s. She was included in the 1964 Post-Painterly Abstraction exhibition curated by Clement Greenberg that introduced painting that came to be known as Color Field. She was influenced by Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock and by Greenberg. Her work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In 2001, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts. More on Frankenthaler here.

Joan Mitchell: (February 12, 1925 – October 30, 1992) a “second generation” abstract expressionist painter, printmaker and member of the American Abstract expressionist movement. Along with Lee Krasner, Grace Hartigan, and Helen Frankenthaler, she was one of her era’s few female painters to gain critical and public acclaim. Her paintings and editioned prints can be seen in major museums and collections across America and Europe.

“A passionate inner vision guided Joan’s brush. Like her peer Cy Twombly, she extended the vocabulary of her Abstract Expressionist forebears. She imbued their painterliness with a compositional and chromatic bravery that defiantly alarms us into grasping their beauty.” – Klaus Kertess wrote in the New York Times

Robert Motherwell:  (January 24, 1915 – July 16, 1991 )With the advent of Pop Art, the art public began to long for the idealism of the Abstract Expressionists. In relation to Andy Warhol’s soup cans, Motherwell’s large abstract paintings achieved a majesty in the public eye. Motherwell’s politics and spirituality were welcome reminders of a time when one could make art that did not engage the cynicism of a post-modern era. Motherwell committed himself to producing highly experimental work of emotional depth for the rest of his life. He died at the age of 76: the last of the great Abstract Expressionists. From the 1949 painting, AT FIVE IN THE AFTERNOON, until the end of his life, Motherwell continued his search for a personal and political voice in abstraction. This search produced a body of work that remains a testament to the human soul and its persistence, and to the genre of abstract painting out of which it came.

Peter Upward: (Born in Melbourne, Australia 1932 – 1983) IN the early 1960s Australia was in the grip of an art war between the abstract and figurative artists.The figurative artists formed a Melbourne-based group, the Antipodeans, strongly critical of abstraction. In the Antipodeans’ manifesto, abstraction was described as “not an art sufficient for our time . . . not an art for living men”.  The abstractionists reponded to this animosity by forming a group called Sydney 9. It included John Olsen, Peter Upward, Leonard Hessing, Clement Meadmore and Stanislaus Rapotec. Sydney 9 first exhibited in Sydney and then in Melbourne, where, in a ploy to get media attention and annoy the Antipodeans, three of the group arrived at the exhibition’s opening in a helicopter, brandishing their paintings.

Written by Caleb Powell

September 6, 2013 at 8:25 am

The Value of Eva Hesse

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Eva Hess at...

Eva Hesse’s “Hang Up” at the Art Institute of Chicago w/my sister, nephews, and niece

“It is possible to gain a reputation as a serious and important artist on the basis of work devoid of seriousness and importance.” – Geoff Dyer

Cooper Union Alumni:  My parents attended school at Cooper Union in the fifties where they met another couple, Socrates and Susi Litsios. My mother Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell, Susi Litsios, and Eva Hesse all studied Fine Art and knew one another. This summer my father went to Chicago, took the above shot, and sent an email to friends and family. Arguments followed.

Heated Words: Susi responded at my previous post on Helen Frankenthaler. She summed up, “Dave (my father) did not choose one of Eva Hesse’s best pieces, but WOW think of how happy your kids would be to inherit it.” So who is Eva Hesse? The question led to a discussion of value, my mother’s art, and the “you get it or you don’t” defense. First, though, Eva Hess.

Eva Hesse died in 1970 at the age of 34. She fled Germany and the Nazis with her family. Her works are currently displayed at these venues:  Art Institute of Chicago, Daros Collection, Zurich; Museum of Modern Art, Museum Wiesbaden, Germany; National Gallery, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art.

Before the Fall, Woodcut by Susan Litsios

The Value of Value:  Hesse’s works are now worth millions. Why? When the reasons to own a work are their resale value, what does that say about the work? Monet originals are also worth millions, but inexpensive Monet reprints are ubiquitous. I’d be curious to see how popular a Hesse knockoff would be.

You Get It or You Don’t:  This phrase evades the need to think. Follow the creed of intellectual triage, satisfy curiosity, life is short, and when “it” is not worth getting, why pursue?

Offense Taken – Offense Intended:  My mother is talented but lazy and insufficiently inspired, thus Susi thought it offensive and arrogant to compare famous artists to my mother, who “…has never confronted the wretched gallery system, or the real and unpitying art world.”

Exactly: I find it offensive that certain artists transform the art world with schlock. Especially in the age of genocide and massive human rights calamity. The high end art world has become the realm of the ultra rich and the sycophant. Tracey Emin and Frankenthaler and Hesse are an escape, and have failed to push society anywhere worthwhile. That art too often does nothing or renders an irrelevant voice is a shame and deserves excoriation.

Eva Hesse

Counterpoint:  Susi wrote a spirited response, full of doubt (the sign of a thinking mind), and defended her  aesthetic. She thinks Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst pure poppycock (we agree), she appreciates Dali’s craft but despises his persona (we agree), and she is taken away by Rothko (we disagree).

The Joy of Art:  Susi writes, “At Cooper I did not know that I contained this passion; and I was kind of surprised at the intensity with which it controlled so much of my life…Generally speaking, I don’t talk about what I do, but do it.  I have worked pretty much every day I could for the last forty years.  I will never be as famous as Franz Kline or Pollock, but fame and fortune are not something you can really look for. Working in my studio is what I like doing best, it is as simple as that.”

Susi’s art has been displayed at some of the best galleries in Switzerland, her home for over forty years, along with being displayed in museums and prestigious collections, and this gave her many delightful contacts. The fact she is an American woman and made inroads in Switzerland, where woodcutting is dominated my men, has also been no small feat. She added, “I have not ever, nor will I ever, make anything just because I think it will sell. Nor do I speculate on other people’s work.”

Letting Art Speak on It’s Own?  It does, it does.

July Notes: Amanda Knox, Phil Jackson, Roxane Gay, Dennis Rodman, Tao Lin

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Amanda Knox received an advance of $4,000,000 for her latest book. I wonder how much of that will go to the family of Meredith Kirchner.

The Jews! Matt’s a good friend, but he buys the 9/11 and Truther narrative. Show me a 9/11 Truther who only buys one conspiracy…it can’t be done.  Over a few beers Matt condemned everyone at the table for buying into media bias, then rambled on about Kennedy, the Spanish Revolution, and how the Jews run Hollywood. Jews? Despite my loaded Christian name, my dad’s side is Sephardic Jew. And Jews in America, especially in Hollywood, compete and hate each other as much if not more so than the norm. Matt?

Phil Jackson has a new book, Eleven Rings. He won eleven NBA titles as coach of the L.A. Lakers and Chicago Bulls, and two as a player for the New York Knicks. So why isn’t his book called Thirteen Rings?

Janet Jackson converts to Islam, following Cat Stevens footsteps, and the Muslim world rejoices. Why? This should be a moment of self reflection, not a time to rejoice. Tell me when a Stephen Hawkings-type converts, THAT would be reason to feel a little more “religiously” secure.

The conflict of interest: Every writer who reviews a book has a conflict of interest. As a writer becomes pulled into the world of letters they become separated by zero or one point of separation from other established writers, editors, agents, and reviewers. Transparency is key, and this is why any review should have a disclosure.

Roxane, Tao, & Dennis:  Three puzzling people that I find fascinating…for misguided reasons. First, the Paula Deen scandal has given the preachy left an excuse for absolutes. Roxane “Tag you’re racist!” Gay capitalized with another screed riddled with platitudes and moral placebos at Salon. She begins:  For people of color, the question isn’t if someone will reveal their racial bias — it’s when...” (And if you’re looking for how to write about racism, check out Brittney Cooper’s “The N-Word on the Fourth of July,” also at Salon. Roxane, please take notes)

The headline says it:  Dennis Rodman deserves consideration for the Nobel Peace Prize, says Dennis Rodman | Ball Don’t Lie – Yahoo! Sports

After reviewing Tao Lin’s Richard Yates, I’d have to be paid money to read anything by him ever again. That being said, here’s a Haiku imitating Tao’s lazy creativity to summarize the contents of his latest:

Haiku of Tao Lin’s Taipei


Tao Lin Tao Lin Tao    林韜林韜林

Lin Tao Lin Tao Lin Tao Lin     韜林韜林韜林韜

Tao Lin Tao Lin Tao    林韜林韜林

Update: After the Zimmerman killing (I think Zimmerman was guilty of, at minimum, manslaughter, and hope he’ll lose in civil court for “wrongful death”), Roxane Gay took out her Platitude Spraying AK-47 and concluded her essay with: “But we cannot give up hope. We cannot be silent.”

For better analysis, read Ta-Nehisi Coates at The AtlanticOn the Killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman

Written by Caleb Powell

July 3, 2013 at 7:58 am

Sanford Wurmfeld: Shit Frozen Below Kelvin

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Wurmfeld vs. Wurmfeld

Sanford Wurmfeld? Sanford Wurmfeld (b. 1942-). Wurm…feld. Wurmfeld.

Art has a greater purpose than to exasperate or frustrate. Yes, frustration within art can have a regenerative effect, and iconoclastic messages serve to exasperate governments, societies, and religions. This often leads to transformative change. But some art has no such intent. The investigation of work of no value, ironically, has edifying fruits. It helps solidify views on what art should do and be.

A professor at Cooper Union (my mother is a CU alum), Wurmfeld is an artist with a name redolent in poetics. He produces work that only questions the acuity of those critics and benefactors who designate what art should hang in what galleries and sell for what price. For what? Enjoy the Wurmfeld. Consider. Left. Right. Below.

Conclusion:  Screen savers are now art. It’s time to ditch the eloquence and go Insane Clown Posse on Wurmfeld and his mentors, predecessors, and contemporaries: Thanks! Thanks a fucking lot, Rothko, Thank you, Warhol. Fuck off, Tracey Emin. Fuck you very much, Frankenthaler. Fuck Pollock. Thanks and fuck all those who set the stage for more shit.