August 4, 2006

High and low color.

Somber neutral tones dominate the austere -- and quite excellent -- exhibit on the printmaking techniques of Chuck Close at the ultra-tasteful Madison Museum of Contemporary Art:

Gallery

At the other end of State Street, we encounter a baby sporting an orange romper in the vicinity of a pop art-style box of licorice from Iceland:

Baby and candy

11 comments:

Mark Daniels said...

My wife--the Art major, former Arts administrator, and wonderful abstract painter, etc--and I went to a Chuck Close show when we were in SF last December. To use a technical term, my assessment was Barfarama. My wife agreed.

The way the show is displayed in your photo looks quite cool. But I'm not a Chuck Close fan. (I guess that's sort of obvious.)

Mark

PS: I do however like Chuck Jones, Chuck Connors, Chuckles the Clown, Chuck Berry, and Chuck Steak. I guess now that I'll just chuck it.

Mark Daniels said...

Headline for a review of the Close show:

CHUCK, BUT NO CIGAR

Amatheia said...

upchuck

Ann Althouse said...

Wow, I don't understand your reasoning, Mark. You're just stating a conclusion (and adding your wife to vouch for it). I've always liked Chuck Close.

Are you put off by the ugliness of the faces that he portrays and the excessive detail or weird lack of detail? It's clear to me that this is a big part of what makes the work compelling.

The one thing I didn't like was the biographical video shown in one room. It was very slow moving and dwelled in a maudlin way on Close's paralysis, as described by his slow-talking wife. I'm not criticizing the wife for speaking to the camera and saying what she did, and I'm not saying the subject of his paralysis is not compelling, just that the video was edited without taste or style.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Was it easy taking candy from that baby?

Mark Daniels said...

Ann:
I didn't give my reason, just my conclusion.

Yes, I feel that his pieces are ugly.

I'm also put off by the constancy of himself as subject.

Of course, Art doesn't have to be beautiful and there is a tradition of artists presenting studies of themselves. But the ugliness is unmitigated and unrelieved in Closes's work.

Grim is the word that comes to mind. And maybe is the way his life feels. But the combination of grimness and self-absorption is off-putting to me, if for no other reason than these are two prime characteristics of all artistic expression these days, including film and music.

This touches on a more general observation: The artistic world is about as prone to sameness and a lack of originality as the corporate realm or any other area of human endeavor, for that matter. I read a great definition of creativity several days ago. It's not fashioning something completely new. It's fusing old ideas and different ways. The artist is someone whose calling, in part, is to take old realities and synthesize them in new ways.

When it comes to visual art and my lamenting the lack of creativity, I'm not referring so much to the images themselves, but to the feelings or the moods that lay behind them.

Darkness, alienation, and self-absorption have all become notable motifs in the visual and other arts.

This allows the artist to forego originality while simultaneously claiming that she or he is expressing what is felt toward a world that tries to make us all conform. Many artists of today seem to scream, "I'm so unique!" while safely conforming to the preferred moods of the culture.

Art, to me, is meant to be countercultural, always challenging us. Guys like Close are today's Norman Rockwells.

At least, that's what I think.

Mark

Mark Daniels said...

By the way, I'm not disparaging Rockwell. He's a fine illustrator, a chronicler of at least a somewhat romanticized part of America. But he isn't an artist in the sense that his contemporary Picasso was.

In assessing artists today, it seems to me that we focus on form rather than function. If someone does something that sort of reminds us of Andy Warhol, we proclaim it artistically significant because of its form. What we should pay more heed to, it seems to me, is its function: How does the piece re-work themes, motifs, and media that is original?

Measured in this way, not only do I find Close's work aesthetically displeasing, but also lacking in those qualities I associate with Art.

Mark

knoxgirl said...

Mark said:

By the way, I'm not disparaging Rockwell. He's a fine illustrator, a chronicler of at least a somewhat romanticized part of America. But he isn't an artist in the sense that his contemporary Picasso was....What we should pay more heed to, it seems to me, is its function: How does the piece re-work themes, motifs, and media that is original?

I dunno, the argument could be made--and could even be correct--that Norman Rockwell was "just" an illustrator. But something about when people dismiss him like that rubs me the wrong way. I don't think to qualified as an "artist" you have to be re-working things, I think you just have to be good. Again, I could be totally wrong.

David said...

Chuck Close has a technical ability to make banal the seamy side of life. He has succeeded in making the bad look worse.

His paralysis is apparent in his work. It is a paralysis of spirit that begs the viewer to feel guilty for not suffering as much as his subjects.

If I want a tour of the denizens of the 'under the overpass crowd' I will buy a newspaper from one of them at the freeway off-ramp or visit them at the local rehab clinic.

Mark Daniels said...

Knoxgirl:
I could be wrong, too. I may even be a bit of a snob on this subject. But the thing is, it's art. So, the bottom line for us all is that our judgments are subjective. That was one reason why in my initial comments, as Ann pointed out, I gave my conclusion without my reasons.

In fact, I love Rockwell. But in my mind, I put him in a different category from Close. Maybe that has to do with what they were seem to be trying to do artistically, too.

But you make a good point, one that's an effective antidote to the snobbishness of which I may have been guilty.

Mark

David said...

Mark, you are not being snobbish. You are recognizing that life is short and, therefore, valuable. Spending time studying subjects that fail to provide the opportunity for our spirits to soar is depriving our collective soul of spiritual nourishment.