Modern art has become a death reel. Like a whale that has been speared too much, art and what one could call, “art movements,” are becoming overbearing ship liners just dying to hit the iceberg. The veracity and speed of the media publicizing some of these works may be at an all time high, and yes, auction houses and critics alike may hold contemporary artworks in high esteem, but better artists are being left behind. Ironically enough, modern art is using the hand brake too much. The art has eased off to such a point, that I would be hard pressed to find honest answers from an artwork that is being praised by the mainstream. However, as art history has shown countless times before, the mainstream has the capacity to sometimes lead contemporary audiences down the wrong path. Think of academic art from the 19th century. People sometimes use the Impressionists as an example of a movement being misunderstood, but now decades later, loved by the public and critics alike. However, I would be shocked if modern art – decades from now – ever had the same stature as the Impressionists. Although their methods were different, they did show that they could be stylistically different, but also contemplative of society. To me, modern art has that same capacity as the academic art from that century. It is too detached from reality, too artificially stimulated, and too lacking in human empathy. Other artists are doing much better, while forging new ways to visualize a medium. They also realize that they live in the 21st century.
In a contemporary world where fragility is frowned upon, Lori Ellison has restored that much forgotten characteristic to the public domain. There is not so much noise and visceral energy that many an attention seeking modernist have unleashed before in some art chambers. Like “a noiseless, patient spider,” Ellison orchestrates a symphony of pure, reflective humility. Although it is nice to think that these works are ones that would make one feel at ease, her work does not follow that simple pattern all the time. In her “Untitled” 2013 ink on paper work, Ellison constructs a vertigo inducing display, where the viewer is completely drawn in and feels the sensation of falling. (It does remind me of the opening credits to the AMC show, “Mad Men”). I am completely gobsmacked by the sheer power of the work, especially in such a simple medium. The power resonates even more when I consider the size of the displays. They’re always quaint and not overbearing in scope by any stretch of the imagination. A much more egotistical artist might have enlarged the vertigo ink work to such a degree that vomiting would be perfectly possible under the circumstances. But as Ellison writes, she wants the viewer to be left “stirred, not shaken:”
Proportion based on the lyric, not the epic – that is where the juice lives. Stirred, not shaken. Duchamp once said that art is the electricity that goes between the metal pole of the work of art and the viewer, and I don’t need shock treatment. Art that is the size and resonance of a haiku, quiet and solid as the ground beneath one’s feet – not art that wears a monocle and boxing gloves in hopes of knocking other art out of the room.
She seems noble in her pursuit of art that tends towards the introverted, and not extroverted of artistic mindsets. What Ellison says about art wearing “boxing gloves” in the hope of “knocking other art out of the room,” I definitely emphasize with. Too much contemporary art wears its ego on its sleeve. However, Ellison wears her heart on her sleeve. I feel the experience much more enriched with this artistic attitude. Intimacy is what contemporary art lacks in spades.
Silke Otto-Knapp has further elevated my love for that stinging beauty, known as the night. The fading light in her 2012-13 work, “Trees and Moon” encapsulates that rich experience that can hardly be done well in the realm of art. One may think of Van Gogh or Whistler, but let’s face it, night time can hardly be done well in art. It takes a particular artist to bring out the pulsing breath without the artifice. In “Trees and Moon” there is a reflection of a lake that practically appears as a dripping, wax candle. Trees and branches seem to fade in and out like the impressionistic mist in one of Monet’s depictions of Rouen Cathedral. A black and white atmosphere rolls over the landscape much like a fog quickly enveloping all that comes before its way. These X-ray-like pictures are really something. They possess not only an intriguing atmosphere, but a passionate love for nature. It would be too simplistic to say that all contemporary art deters from nature, but I can’t help but feel there is an artifice to their attempts that makes them inaccessible. It should be quite clear to the viewer that Otto-Knapp connects with nature in a way that is palpable, positive and honest. In the moral bankruptcy of deranged modern art, some respected artists have seemingly left a real sense of love for nature behind.
Timothy Robert Smith (otherwise known as TV5D) has a compelling imagination. His artworks have such an intoxicating draw to them that one cannot help but think that they are original, but yet firmly entrenched in influence from past greats. I think of some of the Surrealist titans, like Dali. It’s that crazy, off the wall type of artistic vision that can be seen with TV5D. His imagination is quite unlike anything I see today in contemporary art, and really, an imagination one is hard pressed to find at all throughout art.
However, the one work of his that I think perfectly encapsulates his oeuvre and his ability is one of his most recent ones. “7th and Main” (2013) has such a frenetic atmosphere and perspective that it ends up mirroring the contemporary world of today in a new style. Here, one finds the meat and potatoes of what makes his style so riveting. My eyes twitter around the canvas, soaking up the ecstatic light, the Titian red and those eccentric characters that must have forgotten that they are supposed to be at an audition for a Wes Anderson film. TV5D has created the sensation that contemporary artists would be trying to do if they had the guts. The robust perspective is like a governing force that is meant to charge right at the viewer. The bus, the people, the blazing light and the road line, have a complete frontal feel to them, that creates that old bustling feeling I get when I’m in the city. The artwork is also a natural extension of Fabritius’ “View of Delft.” It would seem that not many have picked up on what Fabritius had to offer in his monument of an artwork. However, TV5D has picked up right where Fabritius left off. It’s like Fabritius and TV5D have taken the road less traveled. TV5D’s use of perspective suddenly makes art engaging in a real way, not just simply pompous displays meant to entertain. As TV5D exclaimed with naive arrogance, “Civilization has been directed in one linear path, and that’s what tunnel vision is – but this is Tumble Vision.” I honestly think, Tumble Vision is nothing short of a Big Bang in the art sphere.
It really is a shame that Ed Clark is not a better known Abstract Expressionist. He definitely has a smashing oeuvre. While Pollock was reaping mayhem on canvas, and Rothko subjugating his viewers to emotional devastation with his color fields works, plus Pop Art, Minimalism, and basically Post-Modernism starting to come into full swing, Clark was shuffled through the door, while the limelight went to other artists. Unfortunately, being African American didn’t help matters. In the intervening decades he may have been bobbling through the mainstream art river, hardly getting much critical attention, but nowadays, his work continues to kill the rest of his opposition. I mean, just at look his exhilarating pictures. They pulsate with wild, ecstatic rumblings, like Romantic lyrical poetry at its finest. The sheer vitality is both splendid and palpable in this symphony of the Abstract. Clark orchestrates his symphony through an item that is quite unpretentious. It is no other than a broom. When he pushes the acrylic paint, liberating windows of art are created. The color is almost too much, too over saturated with the richness of the acrylic. Combined with the velvety softness and the raw power of the works, “New Orleans Series #5” seems to personify the explosive nature of the works, but never I might add, ever arrogant in its pretensions. In the end, I am left looking through a microscope at shocking, vital colors. There is this power of the intimacy of what is being committed on canvas. Pollock was almost too much with his endless wires of paint. Even Rothko just wanted to take you to his cathedral and have you submit to the gospel of the Color Field. However, Clark is suggesting the power of one of the most insignificant tools known to man – the broom.
Even though Clark is 87, one would be led to believe that he would be more reflective and not so sturm und drang. Though, it would seem that his work has become and more and more restless. It is this hunger for creating determined art that artists, professionals, viewers and critics alike, should not forget. Clark encapsulates so much of what modern art should be. I want more honesty, more symphonies, more vitality and more determination for creating art that will press the viewer into deciding whether they are satisfied with complacent, second-rate hacks.
Imagination in well esteemed modern art has been reduced to linguistics, anti-intellectual bumbling and nihilism. Although that indictment may seem like a lethal enough dosage to kill an art dealer, I do not mean to be entirely antagonistic. I may appear as a sniper behind the barricade with my criticism, but believe me, there’s nothing I want more than to see modern art succeed for posterity. But therein lies the rub, what do we mean by success? Are ticket sales the measure of all measures? Status of the works? Emotions? Aesthetics? Not quite. Discourse should be the measure. And healthy discourse should come about through healthy artworks. To often I read about how viewers are dumbfounded by prices, gimmicks, and the underwhelming resonance of today’s art, that we sometimes fall into an attack mode towards art and artists. Narcissism rules the day, especially with the anonymity of the Internet. People seem to forget about the power of art, even the professionals. Just take a quick look at exhibit catalogs or reviews and you may very well find the “anti-intellectual bumbling” that is so frequent. To convey any romanticism about art has become so retrograde, that we have forgotten to cleanse the phlegmatic from the mind. Until recently, art may have been summed up with this honest line by Keats:
Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all ye known on earth, and all ye need to know.
It is no wonder why viewers have found the shock of the new, as something totally mind boggling. Aesthetics have been thrown out the window by professionals, instead replaced by a parade of awkward, confrontational concepts. Anti-art in many respects. Sure, photography usurped art as the primary means of representation, but that does not mean artistic form has to drop dead. It is only until art heaves back to its original roots, that an audience can fully appreciate an outlet that mirrors and responds to contemporary times. Until we can contemplate the satisfaction and not the shock of the new, can art finally get a jailbreak.