Monday, February 11, 2013

What Is This New Aesthetic We Are Living In?

I’ve been thinking a lot about art lately, as usual, but I have been thinking about it in a big picture way.  About what is actually going on; what is the air, what is to pass and what is to come.  It seems like a fitting time to be doing this.  This time of the aughts, the new year(s), the non physically manifested doomsday and all other delineators that persist in letting us all know that things are changing.  They are and they aren’t.  I’m a believer that things are cyclic even within their contemporality.  Yes, technology, science, culture, communication, and all the vast endeavors and accomplishments of human kind have made our now different from what was in the past, but the basics of all of it, the reason and the impulses behind it, are the same and at the core we humans are the same.  As much as it feels like things are moving quickly, we are still evolving and it’s a slow process but one that is undoubtedly occurring before our eyes.  This big change/little change vibration is happening in the arts as well and lately there seems to be some distinct camps forming and it is this that I have been mulling over this past week. 

The various camps are divergent, specific in form and aesthetic expression and also have sub communities and alliances. They are also more related then one would think on surface and they are all inheritors of something/some time before.  There are not names to them, I leave this for those more qualified and desirous of this task, but they are distinct and what they are doing and forecasting for things to come is compelling. 

The first group is what I will refer to as ‘the new art brut’.  These are artists who have BFAs, and/or MFAs and they come from a learned conceptual pedagogy that art degree programs insist on nowadays.  They know of and learn about the art histories, mostly western, and they are well versed in the recent art movements and participants.  They have a core peer group in which they either went to school with or have nurtured friendships through gatherings and introductions.  Their style refers back to the stylings of outsider art and art brut whose most famous practitioner was Jean Dubuffet.  There is a predominance of painting, discreet in size that are a messy sort of abstraction but can also reference the body and objects.  There is a lot of color.  Color is vital and a major element but it is not investigated in a theoretical sense but in an emotive and at times arbitrary way, thus disenchanting the myth of ‘the painter.’  There is also a lot of sculpture.  They are usually body referential or amorphous; clumpy is a good word for it.  This too has an intimacy.  There are artists who can be maybe thought of as doing this, like Urs Fischer, but he is too slick, too pro, too many cranes involved.  This new form of sculpture has a preference for plaster, clay, and self mixed dyes.  Throughout the work there is a liveliness, a sense of humor, and a pathetic-ness that has charm.  Artists who are most successfully doing this form that come to mind are Gina Beavers, Allison Shulnik, Mark Grotjan and Mai Thu Perret.  But these artists are not in the same sphere as Outsider Art, which is near and dear to my heart and (and which is wholly underappreciated) or to Art Brut.  There is a total awareness and reflexivity to this new form and it is at a quest that is different from the previous because the ways of making and the results produced is not due to a strangling necessity, well in the way that is dramatized previously, but as a love and curiosity of process and material. Previous participants a part of this linage include artists like Rosemarie Trockel, Günther Förg, and Robert Rauschenberg.  It is different now though and it is fun to see.  Some may think it is quaint, easy somehow, but when you see some of this art being made with as much intelligence and spark as some are these days, it is unquestionable that it will be here for some time. 

Next there is the group that is inhabited by our tech wunderkinds.  The world is a digital stage and we have to have a few art stars.  The pool of these artists is actually quite small, I’d guesstimate 1,000-2,000 or so, but they are clickable, linkable, likeable and generate hits that makes it seem like they are everywhere and thus very influential.  I am not in the camp, which many oddly still are, that ignores this group thinking that it is all a phase and will go away soon.  This will not happen, nor should it.  Some of the most intellectually and aesthetically stimulating stuff is being done here.  Within this larger internet, digital cadre there are many different cliques, each investigating and making work online only or in physical form that focus on certain areas of interest. What is underlying it all though is the way it is made which is via computers and their various programs and tools.  There are a variety of focuses, two which I think are most interesting and most influential.  The first is the use of the digital to create abstraction.  Artists who pop into mind are Artie Vierkant, Juliette Bonneviot, and Travess Smalley, there are many more as well.  Artists focusing on this investigation construct and re-twerk the now familiar forms of abstraction that William DeKooning, Hans Hoffman and the likes stapled into the history books.  There is a reference but not mimicry of past investigations in abstraction and the results are very different visually.  There is a flattening and a persisting reveal of the digital birth of the work.  This to me is interesting because it is a continuation of a form that is still so rich for investigation and it is adding to a larger conversation.  The fact that they are neither beholden nor rejecting with the formalism and history of what was before is smart, especially within this new medium. 

The other digital group is those that use commercialism, capitalism, and advertising as the primary source for image production.  This is becoming more familiar now and Dis Magazine is the Oz of this.  Their original content and presented content has engendered an entire new aesthetic language that has seismic influence on clothing, music, and cultural know how.  There are others like The Jogging, which is a veracious tumblr that makes visuals and sculptural objects by combining the banal and repackaging and creating Frankenstein one-liners that critique our consumer and cultural age.  There are also many other artists that use magazine aesthetics, logos, and consumer goods in their work, as they have in the past, but this time it is different.  There is a critique going on, but it’s not a ‘fuck the system’ sort of one that is familiar and unstimulating.  There is an embrace, an almost ritualized admiration for the power and designed beauty that comes with the logo, with the faux ambience of detached surreal realness.  This is happening because objects and logos don’t mean anything anymore, well at least not in the way they once did.  Everything is accessible to everyone these days, just about, with endless credit and attainable price points for even the most high priced names.  This started in the late 80s when fashion houses saw the big buck potential of making abbreviated collections of their more high-end wares.  Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, and Calvin Klein brought their clothes to the masses, most directly to urban youths and then nothing could stop this trend.   Labels still do matter but in another way.  They don’t reflect status monetarily but act as markers of what cultural tribe you are in.  The ways in which you can use, remix, make fun of, or become a caricature by wearing, ingesting, creating art from and embracing this is a measure of your culture I.Q.  The making of art that is attesting to this is also a part of the larger art history, think Haim Steinbach, Richard Prince, Andy Warhol.  What is new is that this does not solely lie in the object and a presentation.  It is more about a lifestyle, a performative interaction with the brands and lifestyles we can pick and choose from to become the ultimate other.

Lastly, there is this thing that some may refer to as the ‘new sincerity.’  This is the newest trend I am seeing of late and it is based on artists making works that remark on and reveal the personal.  They are constructed and made with formal devices that give room for emotionality, sensitivity, and direct engagement.  There are a few that are participating in this, Jaakko Pallasvuo (who had a show by this name) whose use of video, ice cream and the body are really great.  Bunny Rogers, who as I have noted before on this blog, creates poems and seems to inhabit a general projected self as art form.  And lastly, off the tract but I still find very relevant to this trend is a rapper named Lil B and most specifically his “I Love You” video in which he sings and talks to the camera expressing his love, appreciation and well wishes to everyone.  It is the most sincere thing I have ever seen.  This newest form is very new and I think it is in response to what else is going on.  This was interestingly discussed in Christopher Glazek’s article in n+1 entitled “On Ryan Trecartin.”  This very smart and astute essay delves into Trecartin and his relevancy and themes and how this has displaced the Ryan of before, McGinley, and what it all means.  It is a must-must read.  Reading through it though, I began to think about the truth and the very real impact Trecartin has had on our aesthetics, but also thought of this other thing happening, this private counter that is personal and unfiltered.  One does not exclude the other, but it is interesting to see trends in a different direction even in the midst of the Trecatin landscape.  I’m not sure where or to what degree this ‘new sincerity’ will flourish.  It has had practitioners before, most notably Bas Jan Ader, but even with him it was quick and fleeting.  Maybe things like this can’t hold up as a larger influence but it is refreshing to see and hopefully there will be much more to come.

So, there that is, there is much more missing, many more people, trends and all else that could have been, should have been included in this micro assessment of what is going on in our aesthetic bubble but for now, it’s all I can muster.  Whatever is happening, it is undeniable that it is interesting.  Every generation, every year, every new batch of twentysomethings brings something new and it feels like it is all going to change.  It will in some ways, and it won’t.  The new, the old, it is all relevant and it will continue to feed and pull at each other to create this fantastic time that is now.