Wednesday, March 17, 2010


It’s true that art is exciting when it breaks through boundaries, pushes the envelope, confronts expectations, challenges esthetic norms. When it’s wild. Not easy to do. Especially every day.

What often ends up happening, is that artists think they’re being wild, but really they’re only making an insider joke. And from the outside, this comes off as pretentious, even uptight.

And sometimes the wilder an artist tries to be, the more contrived it looks. Anyway, I haven’t seen any wild-priority art that holds a candle to Lady Gaga in cigarette sunglasses lately. And those will burn out next week.

So when you have a show that’s called “Out of Line,” many will be sure to imagine the art equivalent of an orgy of stunts and provocation. But, I’d like to refine the notion.

Wildness can be shock like I’ve described. But wildness can also be risk.
Making art involves endless choices; you can go safe – stick with what you know, with the good looking cream-white combination - or you can go out on a limb, leap into the unknown, a leap of faith as my friend refers to it. Such leaps aren’t necessarily mind-blowing revolutions or sparkly, but they are always fresh and brave. And that’s what I mean by Out of Line. Partly.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Until very recently, the buzz-adjective was “performative.” It appeared in countless artist statements and wall texts, and was meant to indicate that whatever you were looking at involved some kind of action or process that should be considered part of (or is actually) the work; that that action or process was a performance, deliberate, and therefore meaningful. While it is true that watching something be made or thinking about how it came into being can be beautiful or interesting, we can’t be surprised that the rest of the world thinks we art people ride on a high horse.

What’s floating around these days is the word “physicality,” meant to indicate that touch, surface, the palpable predominates over idea and thinking – in artspeak the latter is erroneously called “conceptual.” It’s a noun, and I haven’t quite got the hang of using it yet. But, here’s an example, from the blog Two Coats of Paint (re: the Whitney Biennial):
[…] much of the work manifests a rediscovered attention to physicality in various ways.
And here’s an example from a wall text at the Biennial itself (re: a piece by Pae White):
[…] by contrasting an image of something immaterial with the physicality of fabric.”
All this to say, “physicality” might indeed be appropriate for the work in Out of Line. As Ms. Locke, my frightening English teacher in high school, might have ordered: Use it in a sentence. OK, here’s two:
The physicality of paint renders the metaphors in Riley’s paintings human and deeply personal.
In seeing the various surfaces and materials, and even in sensing speed and movement, we are reminded that physicality suggests meaning as much as concept.

Hmmm. I think I may stick to touch, surface, palpable.