So many words. (Photo by v.max1978.)
The finest piece of writing I read in all of 2008 was, without a doubt, Zaha Hadid Architects’ parametricism manifesto, released during the Venice Architecture Biennial in September:
That the parametric paradigm is becoming pervasive in contemporary architecture and design is evident. There has been talk about versioning, iteration and mass customisation for quite a while within the architectural avant-garde discourse, formulated at the beginning of the 1990s with the slogan of ‘continuous differentiation.’ Since then, there has been both a widespread, even hegemonic, dissemination of this tendency, as well as a cumulative build-up of virtuosity, resolution and refinement within it.
I think that basically says it all. But what, I’m not sure. What I do know is that this would make for some super snazzy fiction. So, I’ve taken a crack at the beginning of a novel:
She iterated on the couch, optomizing her version of reality. Outdoors his car idled, a cumulative dissemination of all that was gravitating towards its natural culmination. She looked up. A question versioned. But there was no differentiating these events. Even a hegemonic dissemination of this tendency could neither resolve nor refine their inevitable swagger towards catastrophe.
Feel free to submit Chapter Two below. There’s no better way to start the year than by taking a dump on architectural pretension.
We get a lot of press releases here at C-Monster.net. About gallery shows, museum exhibits, artist books, artist sunglasses, artist shower curtains, and penis enhancement. Most of them are blowhardy snooze-fests (except for the ones about the penises). But every once in a while we get a missive that just warms the cockles of our icy, art-industry hearts. Waiting for us in our inbox last week was a dispatch from Kork, a new 864 square-inch art space in downtown Poughkeepsie, New York.
Located in the offices of Bailey Browne CPA & Associates, just above the communal copier, Kork is a bulletin board-sized space with a bi-monthly rotating slate of exhibits which anyone is welcome to ogle, provided they do it during regular office hours. (Tax season is just around the corner so this could be a twofer.) Kork director Christopher Albert described the project to me as “a very small banal art destination. Like the Lightning Field, but much tinier.”
Herewith, a sample of the press release:
Kork, Poughkeepsie’s newest and most exciting project art space is pleased to announce that Elia Gurna’s work Beautiful Dreamer will be on exhibit through the end of December 2008. Kork is 864 square inches of exhibition space on a bulletin board located above the photocopier in the office of Bailey Browne CPA & Associates. Kork is a venue which encourages artists to explore concepts relating to the nature of work, the role of art in a non art context, issues of memory and attention, communication, utility as decor, the decor of utility, the utility of futility and Lord knows what else — all within the footprint of a standard cork bulletin board. In two month rotations, artists are invited to respond to the bulletin board space and its context within the office environment.
What more do you need? If we lived in Poughkeepsie, we’d be hightailing it over there this very second.
Dia you understand me? (Photo by ricksterbot.)
Roving correspondent Mlle. Connasse finds herself stateside this week, so she popped in for a day-long visit of the Dia: Beacon over the weekend, where she encountered some terrific artspeak while admiring the Beuys, the Smithsons and the Serras. She was so moved by the mind-boggling quality of the prose, that she couldn’t resist cabling in some of the more eye-crossing delights. The following bits refer to a single artist:
In each of his works, [the artist] relentlessly examined issues of similarity and difference, likeness and identity.
The recognition of the specificity of each element informs the viewer’s appreciation of the relation of the individual to the collective, of the singular entity to the larger series, and of repetition to order.
Anyone want to venture a guess on which artist the writer might be describing? Get the list of artists here. No cheating.
Posted by C-Monster.
Testing, testing. (Photo by extraface.)
Do you problematize? Are you the kinda person who likes to invert the paradigm? Do you use the word “protean” while ordering lunch? Then you are familiar with the foreign language known as artspeak. But how familiar are you? Test the depth of your knowledge of this incomprehensible tribal tongue with the handy quiz that follows the jump. All you have to do to prove you’re a pro is to correctly match the art to the artspeak.
If you’d like, post your guesses in the comments section. We will send anyone who scores 100% our deepest condolences. Good luck. And no cheating. Correct answers will be posted next week.
There’s been an interesting debate picking up on online about one of my favorite subjects (in addition to Star Wars and burritos): coma-inducing artspeak. It started on March 28th, with a post by Carol Diehl at ArtVent, who quoted, at random, from the publicity materials from the Whitney Biennial. It’s an absolutely delicious paean to impenetrable art prose, including eye-crossing delights such as:
…It is the problematizing of expectations and formalisms through destruction and transformations that is the heart of the continuing project…
…Bove’s “settings” draw on the style, and substance, of certain time-specific materials to resuscitate their referential possibilities, to pull them out of historical stasis and return them to active symbolic duty…
A number of bloggers have since picked up on the post. Tyler Green at Modern Notes asked if there isn’t someone at art museums who occasionally wonders, “Is this the best we can do in communicating with our audience?” Richard Lacayo at Looking Around put together a thoughtful essay that examined why all of this turgid prose exists in the first place:
…the industrial strength rhetoric of so much museum writing is also, I suspect, a defense against anxiety by curators and catalogue essay writers afraid simply to say aloud and in plain English what they suppose the work might be getting at. What if they get it wrong? Better to fall back on clichés that stand in for thought without furthering it.
He also, in what was clearly a humorous riposte, suggested banning words such as “problematize” and “transgressive” from the art writer’s arsenal.
Now, art critic Catherine Spaeth has weighed in on the phenomenon, admitting that she, too, sometimes falls into the jargon trap:
I try to convey in ordinary language thoughts that are difficult to express, and know that I’m guilty of falling into a shorthand academicism or two. I can usually feel this as it happens – poorly used academicisms can snag thought and suspend it from a hook, leaving it to hang there without any opportunity to be in its own mobility. If I feel such a snag I reach for words that arise from the ignorance and generosity of description. What appear are no longer academicisms but opportunisms – repetitions and resonances that emerge from description and course through an essay with their own force. I am wary of these as well, but as opportunisms they are already sticking much more closely to the object at hand.
(Glad that’s been cleared up…) She also writes that she was infuriated by Lacayo’s “call for censorship.” And that “blogger culture lends itself to an anti-intellectualism that has a way of raising its heads in a gang, and that such a self-congratulating posse is not a good thing for arts writing.” Art writing, she posits, is part of an intellectual school of thought that isn’t always supposed to be a quick and easy read.
I can’t speak for any other bloggers here, only myself. But I think that Spaeth misunderstands “blogger culture.” No one I know wants to read dumb writing, nor are they trying to destroy intellectual complexity as we know it. I’m certainly not afraid to head to the dictionary when the occasion warrants it. And the great big Internets makes it easier than ever to inquire about obscure art historical references.
What all of these “bloggers,” including myself, are calling for, is smart writing that is precise and unmuddled. Making it enjoyable to read wouldn’t hurt – especially when it’s geared at the public. As for humor (a.k.a. Lacayo’s call for “censorship”): it’s desperately needed in the fine art genre. We’re not covering Baghdad. It’s paint on canvas. Let’s lighten up.
P.S. No Digest today. I’m on the road.
Posted by C-Monster.