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November 11, 2008

Over? Under? Sideways? Down?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Funny how all those cartoons and jokes about abstract art ("My kid coulda done it," etc) seem to come true, isn't it?



posted by Michael at November 11, 2008


That's hilarious!

My favourite of these 'con artists' is Barnett Newman; most of his paintings consisted of a single vertical stripe of one colour, on a background of another colour. That's it. His 'Voice of Fire', which generated much controversy up here when our national gallery bought it, looks like a flag (a friend of mine described it heraldically when he saw it), painted with a roller brush. "My kid coulda done it", indeed!

Posted by: Will S. on November 11, 2008 10:34 AM

Tee hee.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on November 11, 2008 12:06 PM

I don't think the security guard at the McNay Art Institute in San Antonio appreciated it last week when I pointed at the oscillating fan that was screwed to the wall and told her that that was my favorite work in the entire modern art exhibit.

Posted by: buster1 on November 11, 2008 1:09 PM


Though "abstract art" covers a lot of territory.

Much of this (minimalist) stuff is primarily interesting, if at all, for what the critics can verbalize about it, n'est pas? Created for their pen, no?

On the other hand, for about two decades now I've owned a 4' x 4' abstract canvas that's prominently displayed in my loft's front room. I bought it directly from the artist in Soho after considerable haggling where I got the price "down" to $1000. I wasn't by any means sure I still wasn't considerably overpaying but I was making good coin and figured I could chalk it up as a direct working artist's contribution. Now I wonder if I was skin flinting him. It's usually described by friends as looking a bit like riotous and demolished miscellaneous seafood on a plate on a colorful tablecloth. Well, maybe. It's got lots of reds, some oranges, and blacks. I like it. Have done for years. No pretensions though. It's bold and colorful.

If I could afford it I'd have commissioned something like the Medici chapel fresco for my loft's front room. That's my ultimate druthers. Something like Botticelli's Venus on a half shell would make a fine stand alone canvas in the larger back room. Things don't always get better. Sometimes they peak. Well the impressionists were another peak for me, and some Picasso.

Posted by: dougjnn on November 11, 2008 6:24 PM

Funny, isn't it? FWIW, I actually like a fair amount of abstract and conceptual art. I also "get" a fair amount of it -- what can I say, it's a game my education introduced me to. I rather like walking into a room and encountering a Barnett Newman or a Rothko (or something conceptual, zany, and up to date). I don't worry too much about whether it's great, I just try to see what's there to be enjoyed or at least experienced. I'm also content to agree that the post-WWII American art era is/was something significant. I mean, there it is.

What I quarrel with is mostly what surrounds this kind of art -- the critical claims for it, the art-historical case for it, etc. As dougjnn says, a lot of it seems to be mainly about giving critics (and profs) a chance to blather on. (The '50s and '60s were an era when Great Critics played a big role in culture). It also seems to me absurd to think that this kind of art -- which is as specialized in its values as contempo lit-fict is -- will ever mean much to any but insiders. Which, practically speaking, tends to mean that its perceived "importance" will diminish over time.

Anyway ... So long as I set aside quarrels about greatness and importance what what it's all about and just go "what the hell" and see what it's like for me to spend a few minutes in the presence of some of this work, I can have a very good time. Often: kinda goofy, kinda crazy, kind moody, kinda raucous, kind fun. Why not? The art doesn't do the world any harm, although the articles and books (and college classes) about it may well screw up a lot of brains.

FWIW, of course.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 12, 2008 9:22 AM

One of the most religious experiences I have had was visiting the Rothko Chapel on a rainy morning. Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk stood erect in the rain. Sitting inside the chapel surrounded by the dark canvases reminded me of first seeing the ocean at night when I was five.

This is the trailer of a wonderful documentary:

I couldn't help but wonder if Rothko had hang his paintings sideways, whether he would have seen more hope in life through those "double-doors" :)

Posted by: Pupu on November 12, 2008 10:56 AM

Michael: I rather like walking into a room and encountering a Barnett Newman...

Will S: His 'Voice of Fire', which generated much controversy up here when our national gallery bought it, looks like a flag (a friend of mine described it heraldically when he saw it), painted with a roller brush. "My kid coulda done it", indeed!

To be fair, Will, if you see it the way Michael said, that is, you walk into the room in the Gallery where it's hanging, you do get a real, well, almost 2001 obelisk-y feeling, though bright and sassy. It really is impressive...I can almost hear the duuuuuh, duuuuuh, duuuuh...DUH DUH when I approach it. And I have to admit it's kind of funny too, esp. when you look at it up close. Why I should find it funny to see it that way, I don't know, but I do. And 'Voice of Fire' makes me think of it as being the obelisk that should have brought fire to Man in one of my all time favourite movies, "Quest for Fire".

Quest for Fire. I love that film. Do! Do! Do me atra! Do! (With "Do" pronounced just like "D'oh!") That movie was great, but it would have been PERFECT with an obelisk.

So Voice of Fire wins my love by always making me think of two of my favourite Dawn of Man movies, 2001 and Quest, and puts a smile on my face while doing it.

I think it's worth every penny they spent on it.

Posted by: PatrickH on November 12, 2008 5:01 PM

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