Looking at Suzan Shutan’s Work in A Contemporary Art Exhibit

The first time I saw art work by Suzan Shutan, I sensed a political reading.  Just in the way the works were installed, on both wall and floor, wrapping around corners, weaving mid-air.  I read the subject of “environment” before I even got near enough to note the material used, the titles of the work.  The seeping large shape of looped material poured out of and off the wall, continuing its path onto the gallery floor.  The visual read as suspended or slowed-down liquid flow, something rather beautiful and intricate and yet unsettling at the same time.

Once closer to the work, it became more apparent as to what I was responding to and why.  The material used to create these intricate woven constructions is tar roofing paper joined with industrial glue.  The roofing paper is wholly visible as roofing paper, as tar paper used for roofing, as direct as is the gluing process holding the loops together.  No attempts are made to alter the material as it reads industrial, bitumen, asphalt, oil.  Integrated within these loops are sporadic holdings of vibrant areas of color composed of lokta paper, another durable resinous paper; a material time-honored for its role in the preservation of sacred texts.  Shutan’s treatment of both kinds of paper are the same; both are looped, crocheted-like, and incorporate varying sizes.  The transition from wall space (conventional viewing area for 2-d work) to floor space (traditional sculpture) is the art category integrating, or, “the straddling of both worlds” Shutan speaks of.  But we also read the symbolic in the integration of material within its equally significant method of display. 

Where we find Shutan’s work in the evolving discipline of art is somewhere between the Public Art social (an example might be Serra’s Tilted Arc) and the Earth Art political (Carl Andre’s Stone Field Sculpture or Christo’s pink islands of Biscayne Bay).  Her past work (inspired by artists Andy Goldsworthy and Maya Lin) shows a connection to the environment and to the society and back again.  The pieces engage in the language of Earth Art, Land Art, when artists were abandoning the conventional space in order to get their political messages out there.  Here is where today’s world enters in – and, where I find Shutan’s oil-industry loop pieces to have the potential for moving our cloistered art world back into the real one.

 

If Shutan’s works such as “Ooze” and “Drift” were exhibited outside the gallery, as public art pieces – how effective would their language be?  By exhibiting inside the gallery space instead, given the context of this space, this venue for showing art – and observing the artwork’s activity within it (seeping, moving, gradually spilling over) the work lends itself in metaphor and maybe broadens the meaning to include the very art world her pieces find themselves in. 

Our environmental dilemma is echoed in these intricately designed loop constructions which take aim at the gradual formation of “cultural debris in our industrial enterprises” and, maybe, at our mutual acceptance of the closed-loop commodification and commercial sale of art itself.   

Since Shutan’s Ooze and Drift are exhibited inside a gallery, seen alongside other artwork – we need to figure out how we read it given its context.  The other work may allude to landscape, environment, the natural world and, in their making, be somewhat similar in the gluing and pasting of paper.  This is the common ground that works wonderfully, but might it lead us to one large reading of “environment” and miss the tension or address, comment or menace of Shutan’s work?  Does the political to be found in Shutan’s work get lost in the formalist visual magic?

So, when we take in the totality of the show, do we connect the art on the walls as a unifying theme and register a kudos for curatorial practice, or, only do this in an ancillary way and leave with what Shutan’s art is trying to say?  Does it matter?  Is what we take from the work leading us somewhere beyond the incredible visual, the wows of the making?  How do we feel after leaving this space?  Informed? Quieted? Appreciative? Alarmed? 

Would Ooze and Drift be more effective in communicating Shutan’s valid concerns – if placed in the arena of public space?  Back out where our taking-to-the-streets-in-political-protest is our best method of communicating where we stand as a society?  Placing the work outside the EPA building? Oil refineries?  Gas stations?  Or, bumping up the ante and oozing out into the gallery space itself – but not in a subtle manner, (relying too much upon metaphor) but literally, overtaking the adjacent works?  (Would the artist(s) exhibiting their own work cooperate for the greater cause?) Seeping out of the gallery itself?  Covering like ivy a Koch Brothers philanthropy-sponsored building? 

These are some questions worth addressing.  And, yes, these specific pieces might not physically hold up outside in the elements, but the ideal is certainly worth considering in getting the artist’s message out there where it needs to be.

How we got to this point in our art object making and exhibiting might be another thing to ask.  With “ooze” and “drift” – words that signify slowly, almost imperceptibly, maybe we get our answer. 

2021

Reading Our Screens

The surface of the computer screen is always in the present tense and the information searched and presented on the screen follows in contextual reading.  The computer screen has taken the musty aisles of the ages-old research library and has foreshortened them, having them recede (in space) rather than extend outward, or lengthwise, in a physical chronological unfolding. 

We no longer have to physically walk past shelves and shelves of books, but rather, sit at ease and face a small manageable computer screen.   There are no aisles of great depth, no panoramic view of thousands and thousands of books, just one page read out of every page available.

However at home we may feel at our computers screens, there is still an overbearing weight to assume in being able to digest all that is available via this medium.  A book from cover to cover is digestible; an endless Google search is not.  In paradox, we assume an easier time of acquiring knowledge, but are far more pressed to admit the impossibility of ever digesting anything fully.  From out of the much larger context, we extract what we want, what we need.  We need not read anything in its entirety because the new form denies us the ability.  Our current nonlinear collecting of linked information will give us as much of the meaning of a work as would our cursory skimming over of it.

The old trick of reading the back of a book in order to write a book report has become for us now – the way in which we operate within our knowledge-seeking world.  There is far too much at our fingertips for us to do anything other.  (I cannot read this book by Monday).  It is no longer just one book we have to read and comprehend, but all of them.  They are all there, linked together beyond any manageable boundary.  We are overwhelmed before we even start. 

So, our chosen alternative gives us the act of skipping and searching and looking for enough links and tangents to get to the theme we must arrive at in order to “write our paper.”  We won’t pass without it.  The plot we’ve tackled easily on our first Google search.  The meaning, though, our truest obstacle to be met will remain out of reach given the path we’ve chosen – the present paradigm of computer screen as perfectly fine library aisle substitute.

2021

that venue for showing art

caa show announcement

Regarding the static painted visual art piece on a wall, or, the static sculpted object on a pedestal, what are we to read beyond the object’s own “art-object-ness” in a recycled environment of reference and quotation? Can the object we now make be successful at translating our meaning given its expected reception in a now seemingly all-too familiar field? Is the gallery context itself somehow inhibiting as it moves from exclusive space visited by students of art and other artists to the David Byrne familiar with Eric Fischl painting art’s own art-going morphology?

Is it like the phenomenon of digital accessibility —- with too much equaling too ordinary and expected for us to even blink an eye no matter the possible strength of the work residing? Can the static art object give us the reading it means to in its current context of “being art in a gallery”? or, have we become too savvy an audience, too familiar with how the system works for the art object itself to move beyond the space it relies upon for its translation?

Is Visual Art stuck in its own necessary replication, unable to move beyond the “look” of what we know art on a wall to be, to move beyond the entrenched orthodoxy of this look, this paradigm? Does the gallery space by default, due to our familiarity with it – create for the artist a space impossible for understanding the actual work?  Is our awareness of “looking at art” getting in the way?  Has our method of looking overwhelmed the actual art (if there is any) to be found?

Not unlike a Kafka character caught in truest dilemma, the balance for both lies between the method used (gallery space = traveling circus ) and, the very awareness of the method by both the artist (when placing work in such a prescribed space) and the viewer (upon experiencing that space).  Both require an isolation without self-awareness, and, given our method of viewing art – (which includes taking along our image-conscious selves), neither of these seems possible.

Sept.  2018

today’s realism and bowls of fruit drawn, painted

 

Apples with PLU - entry 1

  • Apples [w/ PLU Sticker] in Pewter Bowl : ( w/r/t the history of Still Life painting)  37” x 46” – Digital – inkjet collage – 2016

 

A realistically drawn apple may be read as the mastering of a skill in the field of representational drawing.  There are endless ways in which the drawing can be done:  varying materials, altering the approach in tackling formal qualities, playing with scale to name but a few.

 

The subject of an apple, or, bowl of fruit, allows for a connection with 2-dimensional art’s tradition, its history in both the academic “learning how to draw” and the prominent genre works found in painting.  This connecting to the past empowers the apple, the fruit as subject matter, referencing a linear progression comprising any true discipline or study which, in turn, genially accounts for its validity and, yes, its relevance.

 

Depending upon how “good” the drawn fruit is (honoring the laws of Realism) will determine the level of mastering.  The drawing becomes somewhat of a biographical sketch of where the artist is at the time in the advancement of a learned technical skill.  Like hitting the perfect note in music, the wows of the viewer are in response to the artist’s performance, the result of a practiced skill, the visual cue to an artist’s bettering this sought-after facility.  We are struck by the artist’s ongoing mastery of drawing something convincingly “real” on a 2-D surface.

 

In looking at a drawing of an apple or fruit Still-life made today, we might be asked to look at it not in terms of success or failure of a bench-marked realism, (our go-to assessment as viewers) but rather in terms of the choice of subject matter itself.  It is in the choosing to draw an apple, fruit bowl that is now our subject matter.  Not unlike our original choosing of the apple, the enactment, the act of drawing or painting is now our content.

 

The weight fruit carries today is not the same in origin, when introduced as subject as it was for Bruegel, Chardin, Courbet.  Our supermarket-stickered fruit reads far differently than the anonymous peasant apple-carting of a Bruegel, the bourgeoisie interior sitting-room of a Chardin, or the crumbling aristocracy of a Courbet.  Our fruit drawings or paintings hold all of these weighted meanings in reference and tribute which is now our subject.

 

In today’s world of the ease of digital rendering, and, an omnipresence of PLU- stickered fruit, the romantic notion of a fruit bowl set in golden-hued light on an elegantly arranged table seems foreign, out-of-date, remote, exotic.  The only connection to this is precedent, art’s own history’s role in continuity of subject for meaning.  We paint and draw fruit because we know painted and drawn fruit register as art.  Still-lifes are wonderful rendering workshops and tradition gives us the proverbial nod to go right ahead and draw the apple, so to speak.  Weight of subject matter is found with a nod from history and the enactment of the actual making.

 

The art part, if there is any to be found, might arise, for instance, from the enacted, the activity or ‘scene from a play’, [maybe Chekhov in spirit?] where the fruit bowl is set upon an old yet elegant gate-legged table, and a drawing is worked on by an actor on stage, the actual result never seen by the audience.

The fruit bowl need not be drawn or painted well, poorly, or … at all, even, for the visual prompt to our much larger subject matter is there, found in the reference to an acceptable academic art-making approach and made real by our artist’s set-up of easel and oils; and, our artist, maybe long-since disillusioned —- yet still searching for meaning in a palette of colors fully within physical reach, but, irretrievably lost to one’s failing eyesight or quickly closing memory.

 

May  2018

                                          cropped-monop-bd-edit1 

Maybe the art on the walls in galleries should be distanced and removed from the real world in terms of its delivery, discussion, and deal with large open swaths of generalized concepts like spirit, balance, harmony and nature, allowing for the connections to be made by sense and feeling rather than study and cultural relevance —- for that is how we may have come to define art anyway.

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Artists were once our sole image-makers.  Their work, (whether political cartoon, lampoon, editorial illustration, architectural design, photograph, painting, sculpture, carving on clay) assumed a role of communication via a select few.  Artists of guilds, patron-hired painters of renown and reputation, professional orators and writers, critics and draftspersons were the ones who gave to our mass audience its cultural signifiers, its innovations within disciplines, and the communication of thoughts, information, and ideas.  The circle of influence was small and exclusive; its contributors, for better or worse, employed by patronage, power and privilege.

Today, with our media platforms allowing us a far wider range of respective contributors, we have universal image-making running alongside the artist’s.  In addition, we have Visual Art’s seemingly tenuous relationship to its once-inseparable theory; (Greenberg’s Modernist Theory which both promoted painting as it simultaneously, and, accordingly, penned its eulogy);  the artist working well within an established discipline pushing tenable Modernist’s boundaries.

Today’s Visual Art seemingly floats without a discipline, and its Modernist Theory, in retrospect, [a discipline criticized itself for its elitism and reduced scope during its time] seems now a welcomed breath of intellectual discourse sorely missed.

hals1
detail:  Berger/Hals 

A language without a discipline in which to speak it (advance it) is where we seem to find ourselves:  wanting our cake (the mooring of Visual Art to a valid language no longer found in theory and scholarship but by virtue of the exhibiting and marketing of the art itself) and, eating it, too – asserting that anything found in these spaces is art, regardless of its challenge to the form, its historical progression, (technical development or any advancement in form) made within the language itself.

(blog post update:  wanting our cake and eating it too = Art Basel Miami Beach_

 

 

So, we have a language that needs to be understood in order for the art to exist, and, the space for that language to exist needs to be open-ended and understood.  If either of these fail in communicating, what do we have?

For the most part, the contemporary art gallery exists in its own subset of isolationism by insisting that the language used here in this space is a mystery, is supposed to be one not quite understood, arcane, and, at its furthest, incommunicable.  It is a place to go to be inspired, awed, moved by the art objects we see before us.  We are there to look at and experience (almost meditatively) objects before us that are presented as art, no matter the success in translation of the language being used.

It is noted that Elizabethan audiences understood the language of pun and aside, nuanced allusion, political and religious satire.  They understood the role of theater, the language of the stage.  I’m not sure we can carry this over to today’s gallery-going experience.  The deck is stacked against the innocent viewer wanting to get something out of the work displayed.  In the open-armedness of the inclusive-minded 21st century society – we have an improved increased interest in Visual Art – but many of the museum-like cordons [prompting us to maintain an awed silence] remain firmly in place.

With Visual Art today- the language is not only arcane but, gratuitous and random.  It seems to consist of an ‘anything goes’ — as long as it “looks like art”; the kind of art that we’ve come to know and trust.  The Copernicuses of art-making have had to become Geo-centrists by market-success default.  Revolutions are for flipping paradigms on their heads, and the market-controlled Gallery-to-Gala-to-Big Art Fair wants nothing to do with this.

So, to look at this whole established system — to look at  “looking at art”with some sort of silver-lining – maybe where today’s art is to be found is in the gallery space — but in the gallery-goer’s own sentient experience of ‘going to a gallery and looking at art‘.  Maybe it is the activity that is the important thing, the social interaction and the community participation and not the “getting anything” from the art, or, what the artist has tried to say with the art object.  Maybe it is the diversion itself; the contemporary gallery space really well-designed in successfully generating the collective sigh, gasp, or reflex and, maybe this is what we truly need.

(blog update:  contemporary art gallery as an experience, an event – cite Amanda Hess – “American Dream” shopping malls for the experience_

 

 

Maybe our art today is to be found in the ‘experiencing of ‘ it —  in all of its intangible, abstract and ineffable nuanced state.

 

Nov.  2016

Intro. to blog

I would love to begin my blog discussing the latest Star Wars movie and tie this in with [a] recent Guerrilla Girls appearance on The Stephen Colbert Show, along with the SNL ‘Undercover Boss’ sketch with Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, and, how these entertainment incidentals (the grist of our Postmodernist mill) tie in with where we are in our society with regard to Art and Culture.

But… I think I need to first identify my angle of approach in Getting Art : Now = where I simply want to discuss contemporary art in a way so that we all can try and understand it (why are Warhol’s soup cans so important?) and participate in the discussion no matter our level or background in art. How I will do this will be by looking at contemporary art shows at galleries and writing about the work shown. The art on the walls tells us a lot about where we are, and, who we are.

If the culture of a people is reflected in the art of a people, what is the 21st century artist reflecting with the visual works it comes up with?

The piece of pottery we look at in a museum of collected artifact – [with its ornamental bands painted in circular pattern] gives to us a glimpse of the culture that created it. The ornamental bands read perhaps as elements mimicking an aquatic nature; a people surrounded by the always-moving bands of water that surround them. The art object reflects the culture that creates it.

“And then I was thinking, what would the worker murals of today be like? They say we are a service economy now – that there are more people selling us hamburgers then making us steel and things. So would the huge wall murals of today be of the people sitting at computer terminals and the people at Burger King handing you your fries? Is there any way to make that look heroic? “Andy Warhol’s “America”; 1985

How is the world of Contemporary Visual Art adding or subtracting anything from the social fabric and does Visual Art have a role, responsibility, or play even a small part in making successful connections with the very same society that sponsors it?

Are those sporadically surfacing visual presentations of the contemporary gallery space doing anything to make us more aware of our current society, or, even better — is that what the assignment is for art? ———has it been? has it always?

Has art and its making become a therapeutic necessity for both artist and viewer; the isolated studio bubble for the artist’s inner peace, and, the contemporary gallery shows and exhibition spaces fulfilling the spiritual-community need like a coffee shop with Wi-Fi or a Y membership?
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My approach to Contemporary Visual Art would like to be one of discussing the work, the actual work on the wall, each piece individually, or, an artist’s direction granted to us by the whole. In doing this, maybe we can find some answers to some of the questions the art object raises.

The fact that so much is familiar to us about art and its making, and, the distance between artist and viewer lessening considerably over the past fifty years [with increased access to the whole idea of artists and making art], there’s a need for the Contemporary Art world to somehow blur the line between arcane language and elitist reading with that of a very savvy digitally-connected here-and-very-now society. This is our context.

With Modernism, we had the approach to painting (making a painting on a canvas in full regard to its tradition and history as a painting) tied to theoretical and practical advancement made within its own well-defined field. With Postmodernism, we no longer have the luxury of such a limited and tidy system of evolution. (Noted, BTW, only in retrospect.) We are no longer reducing painting until we reach the actual canvas material that’s painted on, in order to ‘end painting’, or, at least, to have tried to -Postmodernism -far more unmanageable in its scope. There’s so much here – and, we are swimming in it — our engagement now, (in Post-Postmodernism, Meta-Modernism or whatever term we are asked to apply) something that we have to use as our context for looking at any art object we now make.

The facet of contemporary art’s own tribal chanting of an Anti-Aestheticism attached to the visual art world’s response to Postmodernism makes for an interesting parallel with our conservative movement in our politics. This is what happens, socially, culturally, I guess. The larger we get  (our virtually boundary-less Google-search space) the more tribal we seemingly become; the more protective of our past only in response to an unmanageable present.

The new Star Wars movie (the one everyone is complaining didn’t give us anything new) gives us a glimpse of the culture that created it.  [The piece of pottery we look at in a museum of collected artifact – with its ornamental bands painted in circular pattern gives to us a glimpse of the culture that created it.]

The question we should be asking ourselves of Episode VII is not “why is it simply a remake of Episode IV?”- but, ……………what does remaking Episode IV actually say about us?
If all we did was add technological advancement to the original, is this not our art? Doesn’t this say a lot about our current culture? The fact that there is no new story-line, the fact that we are so eager to be reminded of the first Star Wars movie, to return to the mythical (we are all anxious to see Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher 40 years older) gives us a good indication of where we are culturally, and, where our next Star Wars installment might lead us.