Monday, October 23, 2017

Is The New ‘Fantasy’ Art Reactionary or Just Bad?

Kye Christensen-Lowe at LOMAX


So the other week I saw some gallery shows and yesterday I was talking to someone about one of these shows and we got to talking about a new trend that is popping up in younger artists’ work of late. I usually wouldn’t go to lengths about one trend or another (most of the time) but it was funny it came up again because I had a similar conversation about this specific trend a few weeks ago with another friend, so I feel there must be something to it.

This trend I am referring to is that of ‘Fantasy’ art. What do I mean by this? I mean art that is usually paintings that use mythic/gothic/ tropes that are hued in shades of sickly greens, pastel washes, waif figures, beasts, swords, and celestial and earthly delights. They are like William Blake meets, Egon Shiele, meets best high school art kid. They have a draftsmanship quality and there is an aggressive proving of technique but they also linger, nay try to evoke, a naivety that recalls ‘outsider art’ but not quite. I am calling it ‘fantasy’ because I am an actual fantasy book nerd and this is a sub-genre world I know more about than I would ever like to admit.

The show I saw was at Lomax and it was Kye Christiansen-Lowe’s Prima Materia exhibition. I don’t know the artist’s work and background, even though I was informed about it a bit by someone who does, but I’m not going to discuss this directly as I make it a rule to not critique shows by young artists who have only just begun to exhibit, but I will talk about the larger trend/implications this show brought to mind.

Why is there so much of this ‘fantasy’ art happening of late? As I talked to my friends there was this sense that maybe it’s reactionary to recent art and to ‘conceptual’ art and although I can buy into that idea to some degree, that’s not totally convincing. All art, no matter the end result is conceptual today. What I mean by that is that no matter what is being made, the concept, the background, and the origins is essential and the language, comprehension and interaction we have with art being made today is scoped and intellectualized within this paradigm.

But there is truth to their statements in other ways because one can’t deny what’s been happening. The predominant new trend that has been showing in the last few years is work that is ‘anti-art’ in some way. This anti-art trend is perhaps in reaction to the slick “zombie abstraction” that perverted markets for nearly 5-8 years, or to the corporatization and neo-liberalizing of galleries and institutions both for and non-profit. These plus many other reasons are probably why there has been a desire to create something messier, sloppier, less precious and to revert or reimage the aesthetic landscape.

This, at its core, is really great to see and very necessary to occur but is it just me or is there something else still missing and also a bit off? The art that I have seen that fills this void has all the illusions of being subversive, new, different, fresh but there is also this vague and detached affectedness and self-knowing that makes it hard to believe and frankly, to care about.

The use of big things like myths, legends or folk tales has always been a fabulous horde that has been culled and sourced for inspiration by artists. When done well, it’s brilliant, but when it is used just to impose a conceit of rigor, mystery, or enigma, I find it to be utterly facile. Many of the works I have seen in this specific trend are grandiose in their evocations of the sublime, the grand, and the archetypal. They are alluding to some deep narrative but when I look at most of them I just see surface and clever quotations.

Also, the look of them. The look of these works is most times really off putting. Because they are using the techniques, palate and reference to certain types of art for certain purposes they feel at times embarrassing to look at. And I get it! I know that this cringe factor is the needle in which many artists want to make you squirm, to get you over your hyper minimal conceptual self and to just eat some mushrooms and carry yourself to the next path but it’s all too heavy handed.

All art comes down to personal taste. Sometimes is works for you, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m fine with that, I actually really appreciate and value that but what I’m not on board with is art being ‘weird,’ ‘bad,’ ‘anti-whatever,’ just for the sake of it. And I’m not saying that all art employing this technique is bad and I’m not saying one show or another is bad, but the idea of things trending can definitely be bad. Maybe not bad but it is revealing of larger issues, larger things to still try to understand and try to resolve.

Because of the largeness of the voids and doldrums currently in the art world, I get why a return to or a re-imagining of certain aesthetics is being done but while it happens let’s think about what that means and to always, always, stay critical of why its being done and how and if it could be done better.