Tag Archives: Lenore Malen

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking-3

The first issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A Journal of Contemporary Art Issues, was published in December 1986. M/E/A/N/I/N/G is a collaboration between two artists, Susan Bee and Mira Schor, both painters with expanded interests in writing and politics, and an extended community of artists, art critics, historians, theorists, and poets, whom we sought to engage in discourse and to give a voice to.

For our 30th anniversary and final issue, we have asked some long-time contributors and some new friends to create images and write about where they place meaning today. As ever, we have encouraged artists and writers to feel free to speak to the concerns that have the most meaning to them right now.

Every other day from December 5 until we are done, a grouping of contributions will appear on A Year of Positive Thinking. We invite you to live through this time with all of us in a spirit of impromptu improvisation and passionate care for our futures.

Susan Bee and Mira Schor

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Sheila Pepe: The United States of Calvin

In 1856, one-time pastor and faculty of the Harvard Divinity School Ralph Waldo Emerson published English Traits. As an introduction to a text that exhaustively conveys all favorable traits of the Englishman, Emerson a champion anglophile, asserts the precision of race as not only historic, but also plainly scientific. “It is race, is it not?,” Emerson asks, “that puts the hundred millions of India under the dominion of a remote island in the north of Europe.” His answer is yes. No wonder he was late to the idea of abolition.

Less than seventy-five years later, in 1928, the Harvard Theological Review (Vol. 21, No.3, Jul., pp.163-195) publishes Kemper Fullerton’s “Calvinism and Capitalism.” Within these thirty-two pages many ends are achieved. Most important is, as the title conveys, building a finer point upon Max Weber’s ideas connecting “Protestantism and money making.” For Fullerton the Protestantism key to leadership in modern American Capitalism is specifically Calvinism. Lutheranism doesn’t quite make the grade. Catholicism would catapult us back into the Middle Ages, as Catholics cling to professions in the handicrafts, rather than that of financier, industrialist, or technical expert. Consider the year it was published. In 1928 New York Governor, Catholic and reformer Al Smith was running for president. Wall Street was riding high and Prohibition, which Smith ran against, was in full swing. The Republicans had failed to reapportion Congress and the Electoral College after the 1920 census (which had registered a 15 percent increase in the urban population). Smith lost to Herbert Hoover in a landslide. Many ascribed the loss to the three “P’s” – Prosperity, Prejudice, and Prohibition.

Both the Puritans of Boston Bay Colony and the Dutch Reformed traders of New Amsterdam were Calvinist-based communities. Both built secular societies that were completely religious by design. That is, they believed that man lay bare in the unmediated presence of God. That each individual had an obligation to that God to live a highly disciplined life persistently in pursuit of good works in a secular world. Good work was not social work, rather productive, profitable work. “The Calvinist practised (sic) self-discipline not even to secure assurance (that he was elected for salvation); he practised it for the glory of God, and in the practise of it assurance came.” As Fullerton argues, this is the perfect platform for modern capitalism. Tireless money making at the expense of others is not bad, but there were limits – flagrant avarice was not seen as appropriately ascetic.

As founding father and Boston-born Ben Franklin would say, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” This seems a benign enough aphorism for his young America, even while fueled by a mandate from heaven. What the good humor and simplicity belies is that this country wasn’t simply founded by oligarchs, but by a religious oligarchy that squarely placed duty to God in the secular commons. This is not new; it simply persists.

As we look to find ways to change the damage done in this last presidential election, let’s consider U.S. values as a set of religiously formulated dictates, not the least of which is, for example, the construction of race in the service of making money for the glory of God. No one is out of the loop on this one – whether or not there was or is a “God” in your life. We might wonder where exactly the separation of church and state is in this country, and if the toleration of difference in the service of commerce is adequate expression of civil rights.

It’s time to ask again, and hopefully for the last time: What is this secular church that calls itself America?

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Sheila Pepe, “Glass Ceiling Fantasy,” 2006. Charcoal + chalk on grey paper

Sheila Pepe lives and works in Brooklyn. She is a resident of the Sharpe-Walentas Program. Pepe is working on an exhibition and book with Gilbert Vicario, Chief Curator of the Phoenix Museum, AZ.

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Joseph Nechvatal

Joseph Nechvatal, Portrait of the 45th President of the United States, 11/2016 (dimensions variable)

Joseph Nechvatal, Portrait of the 45th President of the United States, 11/2016 (dimensions variable)

For this digital painting entitled Portrait of the 45th President of the United States, I have taken an official Wikipedia photo portrait of Donald Trump and buried it in visual noise, denying his presence to a large degree. The idea is to visually refuse to acknowledge him clearly as president. To stop reproducing him and his brand as presidential. To resist and oppose him with noise.

Joseph Nechvatal’s computer-robotic assisted paintings and computer software animations are shown regularly in galleries and museums. Towards an Immersive Intelligence: Essays on the Work of Art in the Age of Computer Technology and Virtual Reality (1993-2006) was published by Edgewise Press in 2009. In 2011, Immersion Into Noise was published by the University of Michigan Library. His collected critical art reviews at Hyperallergic can be accessed here.

Martha Wilson as Donald Trump: Politics and Performance Art are One and the Same.

Grace Exhibition Space May 29; Smack Mellon, July 31, 2016; Creative Time Summit/Transformer party, October 13, 2016; P.P.O.W “Inauguration” exhibition, October 28; Tara benefit November 6, 2016.

Enter to Queen, “We are the Champions”

Hello America! People keep asking me how I’m going to make America great again. How I’m going to make America safe again. It’s you and me baby—we’re going to do this together.

It’s the coming of the solid state
When we’ll all be together again
Just like—I can’t remember when
We’ll have paradise on Earth at last

It’s the coming of the solid state
Instantaneous control’s what it takes
No more dropouts to spoil the view
Our society will be so cute!

It’s the coming of the solid state
When morality follows interest rates
Making money’s a right God-given
Here’s to Calvin—is it Coolidge or –ism?

(Put on glasses)

I don’t care if you record me talking about grabbing women’s pussies; however, I never let photos be taken of me wearing glasses. I don’t want to look like a 4-eyed egghead LOSER. But this performance is in the artworld, which does not count.

Hi! I am Martha Wilson, an artist and an arts administrator dressed up like Donald J. Trump. In all my previous performances, I have endeavored to go completely into Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Tipper Gore’s brains, so see what it’s like in there. But I had to turn off Donald’s speech to the Republican National Convention. I am here today wearing both personae to say a few words about how I have seen the relationship of art and politics evolve during the last 50 years.

In the 1960s, the Vietnam War was like a black curtain hanging behind everything. The cultural scene was one of protest, with marches, sit-ins, teach-ins, tax protests, non-violent and violent confrontations of ideas. Kent State was perhaps the nadir of this time, when the National Guard shot and killed students. People left America for Canada; I was one of those. It was a time when neither side would listen to the complaints of the other; our society was truly divided.

The 1970s saw Watergate go down. This is when Richard Nixon’s dirty tricks were exposed; he had to take responsibility and was impeached. The way this happened was that Robert Redford, a successful actor, paid Washington Post journalists Woodward and Bernstein to research and publish what the administration was up to.

In the artworld, artists of the 1970s were inventing postmodernism, becoming socially conscious, and invading the commercial gallery scene with temporary installations and video. Performance art, too, was entering the mainstream through the bar scene. There was recognition that the artworld was a white place: artists who were white were engendering dialogue through friendship with artists of color; Jenny Holzer’s friendship and collaboration with Lady Pink comes to mind.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected. Although as President of the Screen Actors Guild, he started out as a liberal, after he married Nancy, she persuaded him it was politically smarter to be conservative. He in turn chartered Frank Hodsoll with shutting down the National Endowment for the Arts, the agency put in place by Richard Nixon to fund the arts. In the beginning the NEA and the U.S. Information Agency were seen as a way to project America’s cultural hegemony (Abstract Expressionists had fled Europe as a result of World War II). We were better at art than anyone else, plus Abstract Expressionist art kept its mouth shut. However, when Franklin Furnace tried to send politically explicit artist book works to South America through the U.S. Information Agency, they were rejected. Later, the agency itself was killed off.

Back to Frank Hodsoll: the first thing he did was kill off the NEA’s Critics Fellowships. We, the arts organizations, did not see that the goal would be to kill off artists’ fellowships as well, and later to “professionalize” the art spaces.

The Culture Wars began in the late 1980s with the furor caused by Robert Mapplethorpe’s show, “The Perfect Moment,” as it traveled. Dennis Barrie, Director of the Cincinnati Center for Contemporary Art, lost his job as a result of his decision to take this show containing explicit images of S & M practice. The Culture Wars were fought over sexuality as a legitimate subject of contemporary art. After a lawsuit brought by “the NEA Four” Karen Finley, John Fleck, Holly Hughes and Tim Miller made it all the way to the Supreme Court, the arts community lost—the Court installed “community standards of decency” over artists’ First Amendment right to free expression.

This brings us to the 1990s, and the notion that no tax dollars should be paid for “obscene art.” This decade is when the Internet became widely accessible and artists started looking at surveillance instead of sexuality as the locus of threat. Meanwhile, the locus of the Culture Wars changed too, from art to a more granular and local series of battles over women’s reproductive choice; “balance” of equal numbers of radical and conservative views on university faculties; free speech granted to corporations; and Super Pac money allowed to influence public thought.

As Donald, I represent a beacon of hope for the white working class because I am so rich nobody can buy me. I represent their desire to shake up the binary political system–or just fuck things up. I let the barking dogs of racism, sexism and xenophobia run free. Meanwhile, Republican donors and party leaders are getting behind me because I WON… the nomination. They figure, as in the case of Bush vs. Gore, they can still control the political outcome of my presidency.

(Take off glasses)

Tit for tat and tat for tit
Politics is made of this
You give me this
I’ll give you that
And we’ll both smile

Publicity’s our strategy
And due to public memory
Which lapses so conveniently
In a few years

We can raise a family
No scandal’s bad enough to flee
The United States is still all milk and honey
Toooo meeeeee!

I will make America great again. I will make America hate again. I will make America white again. I have already made politics and performance art one and the same.

Good luck!

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Martha Wilson is a pioneering feminist artist and art space director, who over the past four decades created innovative photographic and video works that explore her female subjectivity. She has been described by New York Times critic Holland Cotter as one of “the half-dozen most important people for art in downtown Manhattan in the 1970s.” In 1976 she founded Franklin Furnace, an artist-run space that champions the exploration, promotion and preservation of artist books, temporary installation, performance art, as well as online works. She is represented by P.P.O.W Gallery in New York.

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Deborah Kass

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Destroyed by the election and have nothing to say about anything yet. Too hard to process the current reality. Other than experiencing sheer terror, incredible sadness, and grief.

Deborah Kass is an artist whose paintings examine the intersection of art history, popular culture and the self. Kass’s work has been shown nationally and internationally. The Andy Warhol Museum presented “Deborah Kass, Before and Happily Ever After, Mid- Career Retrospective” in 2012, accompanied by a catalogue published by Rizzoli. Her monumental sculpture OY/YO located in Brooklyn Bridge Park became an instant icon, appearing on the front page of the New York Times and was a beloved destination in NYC. In 2014, Kass was inducted into the New York Foundation for the Arts Hall of Fame. Kass’s work is represented by the Paul Kasmin Gallery.

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Bradley Rubenstein: It’s Not Blood, It’s Red

11/22/2016

Dear Susan and Mira,

Thank you so much for inviting me to contribute a thought or two for this, your final issue, of M/E/A/N/I/N/G.

As artists, we come into our practice largely by finding, and in some ways imitating, figures from whom we imagine we might model ourselves. Barnett Newman’s concept of the “citizen artist” has always loomed large for me, and, I believe, his example might have been in your minds when you started M/E/A/N/I/N/G. His writings, letters to editors, and sometimes even his work (Lace Curtain for Mayor Daley, 1968) reflected a mind attuned to both aesthetics and the delicate fabric of society. Of course there are other examples, both historical and contemporary, who saw their work as part of a larger practice. Jacques-Louis David, Eugène Delacroix, Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova, and Ana Mendieta come to mind.

Does the artist occupy a large role in the body politic? It is somewhat paradoxical that, in the age of Twitter and Instagram, media that privilege the image over the printed word, fewer works of art transcend the ocean of random images. Deborah Kass’s Vote Trump (2016) print edition, despite its complex appropriational historical context, remains one of the few iconic visual works from this election cycle to capture the attention of the public; iconic because it combined a complex historically informed sensibility with graphic effect. To be honest there are no other images that come to mind because, I fear, our current academic culture is not developing a student body willing to engage in public discourse, perhaps due to our trigger-warning, microaggression-fearing culture of safe spaces that has begun to privilege isolation and the cult of victimization over political action and social participation. It might be cautionary to remind younger artists that there is a difference between censorship and persecution (like having your press destroyed, or being imprisoned) and merely being actively ignored. There are artists in other countries who could remind us of this difference if only they weren’t busy being tortured at the moment; Iran, for example, doesn’t have many judgement-free zones.

This is not to say that we should just throw up our hands and admit creative failure. Rather, we might take stock of our time and be attentive, and when necessary, active in our role. When you asked me to contribute to your final issue I was unsure of what I might write, draw, or print that would encapsulate the many disparate thoughts that I have regarding art and culture at the moment. A truckload of ideas were sketched out, discarded. I went back to Newman’s letters hoping for some inspiration, direction. In the end I came to realize that sometimes just being present, and supporting one’s fellow artist-citizens when called upon, might be the most important form of resistance there is. If there is one message that we might take away from 30 years of M/E/A/N/I/N/G, it is that “if you can still read this there is hope.”

With best regards,

Bradley Rubenstein

Bradley Rubenstein is a painter and writer who lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

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Lenore Malen: What Now?

It was a summer of total anxiety and compulsive poll watching and now shock, despair, fear, along with remorse for what I’ve failed to see and failed to do.

A couple of years ago when politics were as usual I wrote a short essay for the Brooklyn Rail on the subject: “What is Art?” Quoting Leon Golub, I said: “If you are extremely worried about the state of the world and believe that art with its myriad of contradictions can’t stand up to it, think of Golub’s book Do Paintings Bite? in which he writes: “Art retains a residual optimism in the very freedom to tell.”  “Last week one of my students said to me: “Now we have a real reason for making art.”  Yes, but in truth, it is only art.

A hope and a plea: Take action immediately in whatever ways we can, each of us, so that the very worst doesn’t happen here, can’t be normalized, doesn’t last.  At the same time be worried about climate, race relations and other grave divisions here, the tinderbox of the Middle East, North Korea, Britain, France, Turkey, and everywhere — everything at once.  Stay in touch.

I’m very sad to think of this as the last issue of M/E/A/N/I/NG, which, when it began, was the only journal especially devoted to contemporary artists in their studios, and has continued to function as such for so many years. It’s a totally unique publication, not academic, not literary, but rather a voice for practicing visual artists — unedited, uncensored in any way.

Reversal from Lenore Malen on Vimeo. Reversal: The central scene of a 3-channel installation. A United Nations address to the human species by a horse character declaring a list of atrocities exacted on non-human animals by humans.

Lenore Malen uses the lens of history and humor to explore utopian longings, dystopic aftermaths, and the sciences and technologies that inform them. Recently her explorations have focused on ecology, on cultural myths, and on the unstable boundaries between humans and animals. She teaches in the MFA Fine Arts Program at Parsons The New School. Her show Scenes From Paradise will be on view at Studio 10, 56 Bogart St., Bushwick, NY, January 6, 2017–February 5, 2017.

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Peter Rostovsky 

peter-rostovsky-green-curtain-painting-small

Peter Rostovsky, Green Curtain, 2013, 78 x 50 in., oil on linen.

The curtain is a barrier. It demarcates time: the closing of a chapter, the beginning of another. For ancient painters and modern philosophers, it has served as a metaphor for representation—a surface that always promises a depth that is not there. For others, like me, it is perhaps an adequate symbol of this dark moment, that feels like the end, but could be—if we make it so—a new beginning, too. Like many, I lurk on the boundary, stretched over its threshold and balanced on this uncertainty, constantly reviewing the program notes, and guessing the next act.

Peter Rostovsky is a Russian-born artist who works in painting, sculpture, installation, and digital art. His work has been shown in the United States and abroad and has been exhibited at The Walker Art Center, MCA Santa Barbara, PS1/MOMA, Artpace, The Santa Monica Museum of Art, The ICA Philadelphia, the Blanton Museum of Art, S.M.A.K., and private galleries. Rostovsky also writes art criticism under the pen name David Geers. Focusing on the convergence of art, politics and technology, his writing has appeared in October, Fillip, Bomb, The Third Rail Quarterly, The Brooklyn Rail and Frieze.

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Further installments of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking will appear here every other day. Contributors will include Alexandria Smith, Altoon Sultan, Ann McCoy, Aziz+Cucher, Aviva Rahmani, Bailey Doogan, Erica Hunt, Faith Wilding, Hermine Ford, Jennifer Bartlett, Jenny Perlin, Joy Garnett and Bill Jones, Joyce Kozloff, Judith Linhares, Julie Harrison, Kat Griefen, Kate Gilmore, Legacy Russell, LigoranoReeese, Mary Garrard, Maureen Connor, Michelle Jaffé, Mimi Gross, Myrel Chernick, Noah Dillon, Noah Fischer,  LigoranoReese, Rachel Owens, Robert C. Morgan, Robin Mitchell, Roger Denson, Susanna Heller, Suzy Spence, Tamara Gonzalez and Chris Martin, Susan Bee, Mira Schor, and more. If you are interested in this series and don’t want to miss any of it, please subscribe to A Year of Positive Thinking during this period, by clicking on subscribe at the upper right of the blog online, making sure to verify your email when prompted.

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A History
We published 20 print issues biannually over ten years from 1986-1996. In 2000, M/E/A/N/I/N/G: An Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Theory, and Criticism was published by Duke University Press. In 2002 we began to publish M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online and have published six online issues. Issue #6 is a link to the digital reissue of all of the original twenty hard copy issues of the journal. The M/E/A/N/I/N/G archive from 1986 to 2002 is in the collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

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Invisibility and Criticality in The Imperium of Analytics

I will complete the third part of “Wonder and Estrangement: Reflections on Three Caves” with a consideration of Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert, currently on special view at the Frick Museum, soon, but not yet.  I am compelled to interrupt that thread with another one, about criticality and some current conditions of writing and publishing, particularly on the web (this is projected as also a three part thread). My regret at interrupting a “positive” line of thought, one that is about some artworks I love and that is not polemically driven, with one about criticality is tempered by the fact that this kind of interruption, caused as it is by competing directions of thought in a fast moving discursive atmosphere, is a component of some of the conditions of writing for the web that I will discuss in this new thread.

I am currently in what passes for my “desert,” that is to say the one place and time in the year when I am  lucky enough to be able to retreat from the fray of the world into the life of a studio near the sea where with the least distractions from daily duties and professional obligations I can struggle with my work during an intense few weeks. I can’t count on revelations from any deity shining down on me from stage right, just the few hard-won moments of deep engagement with my work that make it possible for me to survive the rest of the time. But, just as in Bellini’s painting, where not just the beneficent signs of civilization signaled by the tiny shepherd and his flock in the middle distance, but also the fortifications of various small city-states set on various Tuscan hilltops beyond are clearly visible from the rocky encampment where St. Francis receives the stigmata from an unseen divine force, the voices of the world beyond my studio intervene daily, though with far less divine purposes or effects.

Today, for example, the desperation of some and exasperation of others commenting on one of my posts about Obama and the debt ceiling fiasco on Facebook makes me want to write a longer note there so part of my brain is occupied with that. Meanwhile I also want to publish the following A Year of Positive Thinking blog posts about writing this week so they are online in the time frame of Arts Writers Convening , a conference to be held this coming week in Philadelphia sponsored by the Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program (whose generosity helped me start this blog). In keeping with the paradox of St. Francis in the Desert, I have with regret chosen to not attend the Arts Writers conference because I so need these irreplaceable few days of the year that I can devote entirely to my own work, yet I still have in view these exterior markers and schedules while, as I will discuss, being perfectly aware that few if any may read my words in the right or indeed in any time frame.

Invisibility and Criticality

One evening in the 1990s I was walking down LaGuardia Place and ran into Leon Golub as he was putting out the garbage. This was some time after we had both been on a panel at The Cooper Union, “The Erotics of Painting,” organized by Lenore Malen, (May 6, 1992), during which I had made mincemeat of a critic who currently writes about art for a legendary weekly journal. I’m told that during my remarks Hans Haacke nearly fell out of his seat laughing and Brice Marden, who was sitting next to me on the panel and had just read four or five cryptics words that he had written on a napkin, something like “beauty…space…” (and I mean, only those few words), turned his head suddenly as he realized something unusual was going on (my comments from that panel are published as “The Erotics of Visuality” in my book Wet).

The evening after the panel Leon had called me up and said, “now, you’re a player.” Beyond being absolutely thrilled by his attention I think I was also slightly alarmed. I can’t retrospectively be sure what I thought. I can’t be sure if I really understood what it meant to be a player. I certainly thought I did and wanted to be one, but judging from my whole career to date and from a recent art document I will soon discuss here, I would hazard a guess and say, not really. But Leon was hopeful for me and during this chance encounter on the sidewalk in front of his house, in discussing this further, he said something to the effect of, “it’s good, you should attack as many important people as you can.” His vivid eyes gleamed as he relished the prospect of any valiant battle which he also apparently felt was a path to success or, indeed, a kind of power, although he knew as well as anybody how difficult and frustrating that path was (why won’t this show come to MoMA? [MoMA lists 9 works by Golub in its collection, however all are prints, they do not at present seem to own a major painting]).

Leon was a great painter, and a great, indeed a necessary man, he is much missed. It was a privilege to know him at all and he had been very supportive of me, of M/E/A/N/I/N/G, and of my co-editor the painter Susan Bee. However his predictive powers as to my being a player were a bit shaky: I had already at that time and have since then attacked my share of powerful people yet, in one of his recent visual/textual analyses of who is who and what is what in the artworld, “A Biased and Incomplete Guide to Some Critics in New York (where I live and make art),” William Powhida gave me the highest rating on the criticality factor–95 out of 100–and the lowest on the visibility scale–5! Powhida’s amusing piece came out during the time I was involved in the major move I’ve described on this blog in the post Orbis Mundi so that I was unable to address these ratings until now. So here now are a  few thoughts on criticality and visibility or the lack thereof.

For a more legible view click on the title link above

First of all, a belated thank you William Powhida for the kudos…and the visibility!

And secondly, before I say another self-serving word on the subject (reader alert!), note that Powhida has set the bar for criticality pretty low– “Criticality: arbitrary # based on word count, description, register, analysis, news items”– so it would seem that you don’t have to be a new Adorno to make a high grade, pretty much any text which is not a direct press release and has some content other than entirely gossip- or market- related would seem to apply to one’s criticality score.

It is symptomatic, or syndromatic perhaps, of the power structure of the artworld, really of any power structure, that I have addressed this issue before, notably in my February 14, 2006 lecture at SVA, “The Art of Nonconformist Criticality,” as well as in “The White List,” written for M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online‘s 2002 issue “Is Resistance futile?,” so that not only can I refer to my previous writings and lectures, but I might as well do so because they are relevant to the discussion at hand, including the reflection that for the most part no one remembers what anyone says enough for such self-cribbing to be a problem.

That I have to bring these up is only to state the obvious that the point is, and the point that I make in these texts, that the easiest way for power to deal with non-conforming criticism is to ignore it. Whereas, to use Guy Debord‘s terms, in the Soviet/Fascist epoch of the “concentrated spectacle,” power felt that it was necessary to literally disappear the inconvenient person by killing them and erasing their image from a photograph (China remains in the antiquated Soviet model, putting dissidents in jail and even making Googling the word “jasmine” or selling jasmine branches a crime for fear of contagion of the so-called “jasmine revolution” started in Tunisia this winter), or, under McCarthyism, blacklisting them from employment or access to an audience, in the “integrated spectacle” of free-market global capitalism, extreme rendition and Patriot Act aside, power can simply follow the golden rule of ignoring something entirely. Only what is visible is important, and if it isn’t visible it can’t possibly be good, and what has thus been rendered invisible must at the same time be bad and most likely does not exist.

I named this most effective weapon for silencing alternative views “The White List,” a less violent or visibly oppressive version of “the Black List.” Let me take as an example my first published essay, “Appropriated Sexuality.” In “The White List” I note:

My essay on David Salle, “Appropriated Sexuality,” was published–because Susan and I started our own magazine instead of accepting the status quo and getting depressed! Although overall I can’t complain about getting my writing published, nevertheless my ideas have encountered a subtle form of resistance. Thinking about the “blacklist,” I realize that what I am up against is something that doesn’t have a name. I’ll call it the white list. The white list not only makes it difficult to get alternative points of view published or exhibited, but even if you can get the work out, you still don’t get referenced or credited. After “Appropriated Sexuality” was published, people who I knew had read it wrote articles about Salle in which they would say, “some feminists say” or in some other vague way suggest that there were dissenters to the party line, but they would never actually provide a factual reference. The first favorable mention of this essay appeared in a 2002 Art in America book review by Raphael Rubinstein of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: An Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Theory, and Criticism–a full 16 years after the original publication of the Salle essay! Thus, the nonconforming point of view can be taken out of history.

Actually, Rubinstein‘s was more or less the first mention of this essay at all, and for all I know the last.

In fact part of what makes the white list so effective is that it is itself invisible (the black list was hush-hush in that people were too afraid to even speak about it openly for fear of being suspected of being “fellow travelers,” but it was only semi-obscured, people spoke about it with fear, in hushed tones, public hearings/American version of show trials were held, names were placed on actual black lists, people were imprisoned or forced into exile and eventually even network television news found its conscience).

In “The Art of Nonconformist Criticality” I go into further detail about the Salle essay because it marked my entry as a “player” into the critical field:

I started writing in the early 80s when I observed major changes in art and art theory, a reversal of attitudes about studio process, and of values about feminism, which had just barely had a decade to develop into art. These changes were epitomized for me in the work of someone I had gone to art school with and who was suddenly extremely successful financially and critically, that is, David Salle. No one was writing what I thought, although they might have been saying it in private. So I started to work on an essay eventually entitled, “Appropriated Sexuality” about the misogyny of the depiction of women in Salle’s work and the complicity of the critical apparatus that supported him.

I began with no ideas about publication. But as the essay came into its final form over a period of two years, I began to send it around, to other artists and to various magazines. It was the subject of many letters of rejection from both mainstream and high academic journals that were quite informative about the parameters of art writing. At one point, it was actually accepted for publication by a middle stream regional art magazine, but dropped at the very last minute. Meanwhile my manuscript had been shown to another writer who then published in the same journal a more wishy-washy text in which my ideas were vaguely alluded to as “some feminists say”, a typical example of the kind of balanced writing that is very common in much mainstream media and whose true agenda is the devaluation of opposing views. So that was Karybdis. A thoughtful rejection from October taught me one of the principal methods society deploys to deal with resistance: they tell you that are doing something wrong, even if you’re right. They didn’t like Salle anymore than I did but the enterprise of critiquing him must be approached with “great caution.” My error was in focusing on his representations of women because that was based on an erroneous essentialist premise that such a thing as “women” could still be considered a viable category (as opposed to the theoretical point of view that “women” was a social construct), whereas from their point of view the real problem was not what he was painting, but that he was painting.

I will freely state that the Salle article started my public life, setting me on the dual path of painter/writer I have been on since, so that in some way whatever visibility I have may stem from that initial act of criticality, in keeping with Golub’s advice. (And I will parenthetically state that obviously there is a complication here: the visibility I seek is a dual one, artist/writer, but in this I am not alone and I have powerful predecessors in such polemically inclined visual artists/writers as Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Robert Smithson, Adrian Piper, and Mary Kelly, to name just a few of many significant artists/writers).

However what I didn’t fully realize and still find hard to believe, though it is most likely one factor in the nature of my “career,” is that Salle had powerful friends and adherents and they surely did nothing to help me, if they did not go out of their way to harm me. I’m not a Pollyanna but I tend to find it hard to believe that people actively do bad things on purpose, although I know that many people who are interested in power do exactly that all the time. Nevertheless I began to realize that something had been going on when on two occasions in recent years, long after the publication of that essay, powerful men of my acquaintance in the art world made the casual (but dead serious) assumption I was “tearing up” or “ripping up” something in whatever work I was doing now. The first time was about 20 years after the publication of the Salle ssay: I was having a lively conversation about something completely different with someone at a party when one of Salle’s friends came up to us and said with a shark-like grin on his own face, “Who’s she ripping up now?” And then again just last year, I mentioned to an eminence grise of the New York artworld that I had a new book coming out (A Decade of Negative Thinking) and he said, “Who are you attacking now?”

Esprit de l’escalier: I should have told him.

[And I haven’t even talked here about my  calling some of the editors of October “aesthetic terrorists” (!) at a time when they had more real power than they may have now, as the critical organ of an aesthetic program shared by an international institutional network including major galleries and museums.]

You’d think that a reputation for critical ferocity would be a good thing, from let’s call it a business point of view. Speaking of October, a number of its editors and authors over the years, some of them initially Clement Greenberg’s disciples, have been thought of as art world Savonarolas, and that level of very serious but also often exclusionary criticality gave some of them power in part because they managed not just to be critical but to arrogate to themselves ownership of the correct language of criticality itself. And it was, for better and worse, part of the Clement Greenberg legend, but perhaps because he had most importantly backed a couple of the right horses, Jackson Pollock in particular, his criticality had the positive potential monetary value of a good stock tip, despite its destructive side–telling artists what they should or shouldn’t paint, dismissing all art with so-called literary content, and in later years being a bit of a caricature of himself, siting around with a scotch in his hand saying that’s not a good picture. At some point and for a long while, he could make artists in the market and he could break artists in their studio, a power I obviously do not have and don’t seem to have sought out despite my alleged propensity for “ripping people up.”

So who you attack, on what theoretical grounds, as well as who you back or are associated with, and how interested you are in power, all matter and Golub’s advice that I attack important people has had limited viability in terms of developing visibility. A tree can fall in the forest but those trees around it who are interested in power can determine that they will not give that particular tree the power of their admitting that they heard it fall.

At least for me there seems to be an inverse relation between criticality and visibility. I think this was Powhida’s point in including me in “A Biased and Incomplete Guide to Some Critics in New York (where I live and make art),”.

Coming next: The Imperium of Analytics

 

 

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