Sunday, June 14, 2009

Venice Biennale "New Worlds": checking for a pulse

After reading several reviews of this years "greatest show on earth" it seems that the Venice Biennale has seen better days. According to Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times, it's almost dead on arrival.

"the Biennale is meant to be a survey of new art, and while conscientious young artists now dutifully seem to raise all the right questions about urbanism, polyglot society and political activism, their answers look domesticated and already familiar."

Jerry Saltz, formerly of the village voice and now opining and whining for New York Magazine, has been a vocal critic of the biennale and most art fairs for some time. However, his most recent review was perhaps his most effective, though far from is most acerbic. He seems less eager to attack, as if he senses, like a wolf circling an old moose, that his long hunted prey is finally helpless. Moreover he doesn't miss the opportunity to eagerly gloat, though I agree with much of what he says. Far from adroit, his contrived similes (accompanied by the obligatory slightly offensive and counter-culture verbiage from spoken discourse: "fuck", "crap", and "dude" used for some kind of emphatic purpose) transparently reveal the juvenile 'raspberry' on the tip of his woolly tongue.

"A text plaintively asks, “Are the black flags quivering in the distance the rising image of a radical hope of a possible other world?” No, they’re flags of surrender — the pavilion wants to kill itself for housing such bad art. I have four words for Lévêque: Get a job, dude."

Saltz does parrot the critical acclaim of Bruce Nauman's installation in the U.S Pavilion. Perhaps this is due to a fear of taking on a foe far too great for his pointy little teeth. The universally held "truth" of this elephant in the field is, (and I'm not afraid to declaim this with yet another cliche) more of the same.

Neon lights! Shock value! Irony! Text! It's sooo NEW!

I haven't looked at my watch in a while, but last time I checked it wasn't 1972.

Wikipedia (admittedly, not a critical source) says:
"He seems to be fascinated by the nature of communication and language's inherent problems, as well as the role of the artist as supposed communicator and manipulator of visual symbols."

Isn't Noam Chomsky also? But wait, he's only a linguist, philosopher, and cognitive scientist, we're talking about art here... one couldn't possibly judge Nauman in relation to 'actual philosophers' or 'actual scientists'. Well then, to be fair, let's compare him to other artists concerned with the same ideas. How about: Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rubens, Rembrandt, Goya, Rodin,... what's that? We can only compare him to "contemporary" or post-war artists. Ok, how about: Andy Warhol, Vincent Desiderio, Eric Fischl, Mark Tansey, etc.... actually, isn't every artist concerned with the manipulation of visual symbols and the artists niche as such in the context of greater society? By the nature of being a visual artist, doesn't every artist realize "language's inherent problems"?

All of that aside, the miniature biennale this year certainly is a factor of the economy. Yet, had the art bubble continued its inflated expansion, that would not have changed the fact that something about the contemporary art world is dead. Last years decadence reeks of the decaying odor of the extravagant cocktail parties in The Great Gatsby, on the eve of black Tuesday. But of course, hindsight is 20-20, but not everyone was blind while it was happening. To his credit Saltz did see it coming and more often than not, and has often discussed the brand of "eighth generation conceptualism" vended at these events. The inflation of the art market is very much akin to the sub-prime mortgage debacle. Many saw that these mortgages had no value, yet investment banks thought that with a little slight of hand, a little trickery, they could repackage them as triple A mortgage backed securities. No one thought that the bottom would fall out as long as the illusion of value persisted and real estate kept climbing. But as with the real estate bubble, the art bubble popped as well. Like those vastly over-valued McMansions, the mirage of the value of eighth generation conceptualism has vanished in the desert and everyone has been left groping. There is, in fact, no water there, only another grain of sand like many millions of others slipping through their fingers.

And everyone seems to be asking "What's next?", further proving that the only value in this "Art" was illusory and simply market hype. If you want to ask me, and I'm assuming you do as you've read this far, the only value is real value, not perceived value. Obscure? Well, I could enumerate many reasons for my position, just as philosophical and theoretical as the conceptualist. I could opine about the psychological need for catharsis, the need to connect and communicate, to understand and be understood. I could talk about the natural human response to the image of other humans, but I really only need a quantitative measurement to make my point, as that's as close as we can objectively come to real value. The market for "contemporary" art has fluctuated vastly in the past as has the art market in general. As Charles Saatchi pointed out in a response to the latest Top 200 Artists of the 20th Century list, it only takes a few years for someone with even the calibre of Mathew Barney (one of the very few performance artists that I actually respect) to vanish like a shooting star. But there's one sector that always grows at a steady pace: The Old Masters. Not only do they hold their value, but the market for contemporary classical, realist, or figurative art also follows suit.

So, what does the Venice Biennale tell us about the art world? No pulse? Instead of calling the time of death, perhaps we should prescribe an antidote. After decades of inebriated delusions of grandeur and aesthetic cirrhosis, I think what we need now is a healthy dose of reality.


Artist-in-Residence said...

...We do our best :)

ArtSeenChicago said...

Check out Re-Figure, an exhibition that takes a contemporary look at the human identity and form.

David Dalla Venezia said...

There's at least an exception in all the "contemporary" stuff showed at the Biennale: