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« Eisenman/Oakeshott redux | Main | Art, Beauty & Fashion »

October 12, 2002

Times Square


Times Square: The revolution is now

I can’t be the only person who’s noticed that what the early Soviet revolutionary artists envisioned has come to pass. It's visible in the architecture of the new Times Square, and it's all around us in the form of the media-and-technology networks so many of us work and play in.

This became evident to me some time ago when The Wife and I attended a show in L.A. of Soviet revolutionary architectural drawings. "It's Times Square!" we whispered to each other over and over. Bewildering that more people don't recognize that what radicals have dreamed about for centuries has arrived. We have critic acquaintances, for instance, who denounce the new Times Square yet carry on as though there's something subversive about pop culture. Er, guys....

How can they miss the fact that avant-garde-ism is all-pervasive these days? In the electronic and digital universe, everything connects, everything interpenetrates, there's no gravity, linearity is a beat-up old relic, the hierarchies that haven't yet been leveled are about to be, etc etc. Listen to a CD while surfing the web, take a stroll through a shopping mall while your VCR records a show at home... Zdanevich and Tatlin would keel over in amazement and delight.

Early Soviet art: The dream was then

Why don't lefties recognize their dream now that it has become a reality? (My suspicion: they prefer the dream because it is a dream.) Two answers occur to me. One is that the underlying realities (birth, death, scarcity, illness, frustration, etc etc) haven't changed and never will, and that what lefties have really been protesting are the basic facts of life. They always assumed these problems would evaporate once avant-garde-ism was installed in power. Basic facts of life haven't changed? Well, then, the revolution hasn't really arrived.

The second is that lefties are so accustomed to thinking of their dream as a pure thing that they don't recognize it in a (necessarily messy) incarnated form. Oooooh -- money, profits, business -- nasty. That's not a revolution. But maybe there are better explanations. Do you have one?

Funny how it never seems to occur to lefties that even the revolution has to be paid for. Utopia does too. I had lunch with a friend in the Frank Gehry-designed Conde Nast lunchroom the other day, and was struck, not for the first time, by the way that Times Square represents a bringing-together of international finance, media power, avant-garde star architects, and theme park whoopee aesthetics. These elements and values are no longer in conflict. They're playing on the same team.

Not enough is made of the way the most mundane pop culture these days embodies avant-garde ideals. TV commercials and rock videos are as nonlinear and unbounded as anything Godard collaged together. What producers do with techno and rap is as far-out as anything Varese or Boulez devised. OK, the new-media artifacts are pumped-up, are determined to sell sell sell, and are set to throbbing dance beats. But something and someone's got to pay for the special effects.

Hey, maybe that's the answer: maybe lefties are holding their breath for the day when all the goodies are free.

I muse about something else as well: given that money, technology, gadgets, databases, and the mainstream media are permeated with avant-gardism these days, why would an artist choose to make a point of being avant-garde? In a free country, why not? Sure. But such a choice does seem more a matter of underlining the obvious than of cutting against the grain.

Why not choose instead some other response? This helps explain why I'm taken by the New Classicism in architecture (here), by Wynton Marsalis' impact on jazz, by Seaside (here), by poets who use rhyme and meter (here), by fiction writers who are piecing narrative back together, by the food-and-eating movement known as Slow Food (here), and by composers who are using tonality (here). I may or may not be crazy about individual works, but I find it hard not to feel sympathy for, and even moved by, the general approach. In a slip-slidey, high-key, self-vaporizing media-and-art universe that's always dematerializing beneath you, why not create an oasis of calm and quiet? Why not create experiences of solidity and depth? Why not assert the importance of traditional human values and preferences?

But perhaps this is only my temperament speaking. Then again, what's wrong with that? And, gosh, the web makes it so easy...



posted by Michael at October 12, 2002


Hi from New Zealand. Discovered your site while researching the 'female gaze' for a an essay and came across the posts on a-art/A-art. I get that stuff shoved up my wazoo at art school every day of the week and frankly it still confuses me. Although I've come to appreciate certain art forms by studying some of the background it all goes down the drain when I talk to non-art people and all they say is 'nothing like a good landscape, now that's REAL art'. sigh. When I look at Pollock or Rothko now and a whole miriad of other a/Artists I ask my tutor why if I do the same they say I'm not 'exteeeeeending' myself. Define extention I say and they give me an exasperated look, roll their eyes and tell me to go do some more research. Boy!!! Does that get me boiling? Any way great site,(very brain friendly for us non-extended people), have book marked it to follow any discussions on various topics. I have planned an exhibition in March 2004 and am producing 500 drawings with 'no meaning' woo hoooooo. I DO hope my tutors attend. Looking for any great/terrific/fantastic presentation ideas for it too in anyone has any mind tsunami about it.


Gyll (New Zealand)

Posted by: Gyll on September 25, 2003 09:30 PM

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