December 28, 2011

Things that are not actually strange.

"It is strange that the sculptor John Chamberlain and the painter Helen Frankenthaler should have died within a week of each other — he on Dec. 21, and she on Tuesday — considering that they occupy such similar positions within the history of American art."

That's the beginning of an article by Roberta Smith in the NYT. Maybe something here is strange, but it's not strange that 2 elderly individuals died within a few days of each other. If I were to try to articulate what is strange that comes to mind as we are prompted to think about these 2 artists at the same time, I would say it's the way art like this doesn't matter in American culture anymore, and it used to matter so much.

It was a big deal in the late 1950s when Chamberlain made sculptures out of scraps from old cars. It seemed really important and controversial enough to argue about. And then there was Frankenthaler with her "pastels and slithery forms [that] could be read as descending from Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowery colors and labial shapes." Did abstract expressionism make men do one thing and women another?
Some feminist art historians have suggested that Ms. Frankenthaler’s stain technique could perhaps even be likened to menstruation.
That used to matter so much. Imagine the arguments of long ago. We're so post-menopausal now. We can't get excited things like that anymore.

27 comments:

ricpic said...

Utter garbage about Frankenthaler's stain technique referring to menstrual fluid. Although that's what intellectuals do with art, very much second rate art in Frankenthaler's case. The technique of staining the canvas had been invented or accidently discovered by Morris Louis, an artist about 15 years Frankenthaler's senior. His paintings are actually quite beautiful. She borrowed or stole the technique and made dreck. But abstract dreck art intellectuals could spin endless theories around.

ken in sc said...

When I lived in Korea, I saw on TV, that a group of Buddhist Monks tore down a fence with iron spikes to beat each other with the spikes. That's when I learned that Buddhists are not necessarily non violent.

somefeller said...

RIP to the both of them. And cue up the dumb comments like "modern art isn't art" or "my kid could do that".

Terry said...

A thing that is actually strange is John Adams and Thos. Jefferson dying on the same day -- July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after each had signed the Declaration of Independence.

Peter said...

"We can't get excited things like that anymore."

It's just become so hard to be transgressive!

Or, perhaps it's not so much that originality in art is unimportant, it's just that other things are also important.

Such as, talent.

David said...

Frankenthaler was a rich lady of reasonable but not outstanding talent who spent, slept and married her way into the upper reaches of the art world. She was upper crust all the way.

rhhardin said...

Art controversy was a weekly news media invention.

Curious George said...

On the 17th hole of Odana Hills GC in Madison (the par three you can see along Odana Road) is a bench donated by the widow of man who played there. Both their names are now inscribed, and both died on the same day, she dying a number of years later. I always wondered if there was acausal reason on that day...and if was the grief she felt every year taking it's toll (or maybe she had a wild party!?!).

As far as the artist and sculptor? Don't know who they are or care.

edutcher said...

Strange is Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both dying on the same July 4.

Ralph L said...

With a name like Frankenthaler, she has to be good.

My grandmother, b-i-l, and first office cat all died on July 14.

Michael said...

Somefeller: I do not think my children could paint like Frankenthaler or "sculpt" like Chamberlain. But I wonder if Frankenthaler could draw like Leonardo or Chamberlain sculpt a rearing horse.

Patrick said...

I think we are at the point that as long as she wrote that it is "strange" rather than "ironic," we must consider it a victory.

Joe Schmoe said...

Part of the disinterest is the intentional schism that the art community and its patrons have engendered with the rest of the general public. They prize their separation from the hoi polloi and the commercialist craft with which they decorate. Reading art critics can be like reading another language sometimes, too. They can impute an amazing number of qualities to an artwork, and all are unbelievably subjective and debatable. And they don't like to debate.

Maguro said...

Wow, when I first glanced at this post I thought Joba Chamberlain had died, which would've been a shocker.

DADvocate said...

And cue up ...

Cue up the complaining about somebody saying something that they haven't said.

Palladian said...

What ricpic said about Morris Louis vs Frankenthaler.

Helen Frankenthaler and her third-rate painter husband Robert Motherwell threatened to leave Castelli Gallery because Leo was giving a show to the little-known Jasper Johns. Frankenthaler said that she and Motherwell "wouldn't show in the same gallery as a faggot".

somefeller said...

Well DADvacate, given past commentary I've seen around here when the topic of modern art has come up, I expected such comments to come up. I'm happy to see that they haven't. But maybe I scared them off. One riot, one ranger.

Palladian, I like your comments on art. If your story about Frankenthaler and Motherwell is true (and I have no reason to doubt you), that's a pretty damning one and it's a story people should be aware of.

Palladian said...

Well DADvacate, given past commentary I've seen around here when the topic of modern art has come up, I expected such comments to come up. I'm happy to see that they haven't. But maybe I scared them off. One riot, one ranger.

It's usually my duty to defend the honor of painting and sculpture around here, so I'm glad someone else takes up the baton for once. My preference is for the great technicians (the van Eycks, Rubens, Holbein, George Romney, to name but a few) but the development of modernism and abstraction is very important to me and my work.

As for Frankenthaler's comment about Jasper Johns, I have it on very good authority. Frankenthaler was a hateful woman, perhaps partially because you needed to act "tough" when hanging around the boys of the New York Ab-Ex movement. Many of that group of painters, as talented as some of them were, played pathetic macho games with each other, and some of them (like Helen & Robert) resented the "faggots" who supplanted them — "Pop" artists like Johns, Warhol and Rauschenberg — as big earners at Castelli.

somefeller said...

Thanks, Palladian. Interesting story. What you're saying doesn't surprise me. I like the ab-ex artists, but there was a dude-art aspect to that scene. And I had no idea that Mitt Romney's dad was a great artist. Such a talented family.

Lawyer Mom said...

Oh, Ann, to suggest we've moved beyond PMS? Why, how can you call yourself a feminist?

Palladian said...

And I had no idea that Mitt Romney's dad was a great artist. Such a talented family.

Oddly, Mitt Romney is actually related to George Romney, Painter.

Indigo Red said...

That sculptor John Chamberlain and painter Helen Frankenthaler died in the same week is not strange at all.

That sculptor John Chamberlain, painter Helen Frankenthaler, and actor Cheetah died in the same week - now, that is strange.

vet66 said...

I believe history will not be kind to the arts as conceived by most 20th century artists. Unless it is an example to future generations comparing pop culture art versus art for the ages.

And to think our tax paying dollars financed so much of this abominable trash. I reference "piss Christ" as one of the low points in our cultural contribution to the ages.

Palladian said...

Ah, I knew a "modern art" comment thread wouldn't pass without some yokel mentioning "Piss Christ". As a photograph, it's a meretricious piece of sensationalist trash, but it's also extremely annoying that it has become the bête noire of ignorant cultural conservatives, cited as evidence of artistic, national, and cosmic decadence and doom. The truth is, no intelligent people involved in the world of art really even think about it or Serrano anymore.

Roz Chatt said...

My first thought was that dying before the end of the year must have something to do with estate taxes. I don't mean to be disrespectful, it just was the first thought that popped into my head, call it intuition.

They were both incredibly wealthy after all, and represented the blue chip strata of the art market, but to answer the point by vet66, they both went into art before it became the super stratospheric industry it has become.

To Ann's point, about their fall from prominence to irrelevance, that is a sobering thought. It might be the passing judgment on abstract expressionism which has fallen out of style, or just a statement of the place of the arts in society in general.

The fine arts have never been the most popular venue of entertainment by the general public. The exploration by artists into abstraction further limited the audience.

There are so many very talented and accomplished artists who are totally unknown and unacknowledged outside of art circles. -- David Smith, Willem De Kooning, some of my favorite artists from that period alone.

What I find is strange is that despite how few people seem to be knowledgeable about art, there are more art museums today than ever before, attendance is huge.

From NY Observer 7/22/11 The Met’s 5.68-million-person figure puts it in third place in terms of international museum attendance, Hyperallergic magazine notes. Only the Louvre and the British Museum–with 8.5 million and 5.84 million guests in 2010, respectively–currently have higher visitor numbers on their books.

Nichevo said...

yokel mentioning "Piss Christ"

Well, Pal, it is an instance of no justice, and these linger. If Serrano had got some sort of comeuppance it might retreat from the common man's top-of-mind. The thing about épater la bourgeoisie is that the bourgeoisie would like to give it right back if they had a way.

Of course one can just smile and think of him being fed to sharks or Muslims but in reality, fame nd fortune and ripe old age, right?

Nichevo said...

Or would you prefer to get into Finley and the chocolate? Yes that is moving back in time but really, what will forward achieve? Have all the neue kockers been gotten rid of and artists now make art?