Trend this, trend that, there is a veritable golden ladder of making the quippiest pick or insight in what is “in” for art, culture, fashion, music, and all else that keeps us occupied with our time and money. It is the industry that makes the industries and within art there are various groups of trendsetters. This includes artists, curators, dealers, specific collectors and critics, their influence in that order. What is most unrecognized and or under spoken about is that it is really the artists who make the rules. This is, let’s not forget, the art industry and it still happens that artists make the goods. This fact gets lost most of the time because to be frank there are just too many artists (well too many bad ones) and sometimes it is shocking, annoying, and downright puzzling how some great artists get ignored and how some not very good ones get museum shows and million dollar tags. Still, this is how it has been since modern/contemporary art has been around. This is why the trendsetters, the tastemakers, the oracles of what is to come in the arts are needed, necessary and have effect. The art world is a whirlpool, you can’t stop its momentum but you can make it go faster one way and with enough effort you can make it spin the other.
Just on 24th street alone in Chelsea the incredible evidence of the trend of craft is astounding. Yes, the whole craft and art, art and craft dialogue has been had and re-had but this time around it feels different. Fine art most commonly uses craft techniques as a form of subversion. Now it feels like a tool to enforce validity. One such example is Nick Cave’s giant ritual, voodoo, monster, shamans that are at Mary Boone (there was also a related show at Jack Shainman). I have never found Cave’s work very engaging, yes they are impressive and masterfully built but they never did the thing they were implying, at least to me. This new batch is much more of the same but even so, there is something undeniable impressive about it all. The closest thing to animism was the twig suites. They are dense and hairy and make the skin prickle with bumps. Most of the others are Liberace meets Gaga meets rocket ship. They are nice. Pretty. Well made. Now, how is Cave using craft to validate? For his suits, Cave is using the history, imagery and ritual of technique and folk tradition to authenticate the necessity of the objects he is making. Things that are made as craft objects have a history of tradition, of passed on knowledge, a form of necessity in its methods of production. Cave takes this even further by injecting this assumption into his suits, making them more than just intense couture.
Other artists that are using craft in similar ways are Mindy Shapero at Marianne Boesky and Olaf Breunning at Metro Pictures. Shapero’s show is not the best in town, it has lots of puffy paint, flowers and mild op illusionistic profiles and faces but the sheer brazenness of these afterschool techniques in this well appointed space is ballsy to say the least. Olaf Breunning’s small show at Metro Pictures is perfectly Olaf, albeit in a much too small space. They are of mostly nude women, some men, in their ripe age of mid to late 20s and they are painted as artists in the style those artists painted in. Just think Murakami, Basquiet, Beuys and you will get it. The whole finger paint, diorama, dress up, costuming, primary colors works here although the results is more a bemused chuckle than any sort of conversation to be had. But that’s okay; art can just be fun and silly sometimes. Both Shapero and Breunning apply the techniques of craft in not the same way Cave does, but its close. Cave seems to take himself much more seriously, but in each case, these artists use craft as a means to an end. And that end is big A art.
The next thing is not a trend per se but it is something that has been sticking with me. The current de Kooning retrospective, which I go into flutters about a few weeks ago, is just marvelous. Although that show is clearly about painting, there is also the line. Drawing and painting are different breeds entirely, but there is something so basic about drawing, that it is difficult, prey impossible to separate drawing from other art forms. Is that a stretch? Not at all in my book but it is not obvious or necessarily that important a fact in most situations. But in the case of de Kooning, the line is pertinent and this is also true for Richard Serra’s new installation at Gagosian. Called Junction/Cycle, this exhibit features two new sculptural installations that are at first expectantly Serra but once inside the sculptures, something happens, things get interesting.
The passages in both works are languid, they are sweeping and the walls curve and bend in the same way his other labyrinthine works do but here, there is no ominous compression. Instead the movement, flow and slight curve of these wonderfully ochre chalk walls is positively lyric. In addition, looking up is just as important as looking ahead in these works. As you do this there appears ribbons of light, of the ceiling and those slivers become liquid and shift with your body. These lines are leading you to the rest of its form as you move within the passageways. Maybe I am thinking about Serra in different terms after seeing his very fantastic drawing retrospective at The Metropolitan Museum of Art this past summer. The conversation regarding the line in respects to Serra’s work has been hashed out, you can see it repeated in his works on paper, his sculpture and his videos. This new show makes this point firm in my comprehension of his work. Also, seeing the works from above, which only those with a crane or a plane can see in real time, but we all can see as reproduction, evidences this lyric form of line. There is something very gentle about these new sculptures. Gentle and Serra, things are more possible then one could ever think these days. This idea of the line as the source but not the fixation is quite a challenging idea, very simplistic but a very abstract common dominator.