Who’s Framing A Generation?

by Art Fag City on June 2, 2009 · 24 comments Events

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New York Times critic Holland Cotter ruminates on how cultural history gets written, discussing The Metropolitan Museum’s The Pictures Generation 1974-1984, and Younger Than Jesus at the New Museum. Kudos to Cotter for pointing out the Met’s inappropriate exclusion of Philip Smith, though we differ in opinion on Younger Than Jesus. The critic writes:

A scan of the catalog's biographies confirms that, almost without exception, the artists in the show are products of art schools, as often as not intensely professionalized, canon-driven environments. This may help explain why so much of the work on view comes with art historical references and borrowings, tweaks on tweaks on tweaks so intricate and numerous as to defy listing.

The same biographies reveal that nearly all of these 33-and-under artists already have substantial careers in progress, with solo shows in commercial galleries, appearances in international surveys and so on. So this isn't a promising-newcomer event. It's a market-vetted product and one that, my guess is, entailed relatively little adventuring on the part of its organizers.

While Cotter describes the professionalized state of the art world quite well (brilliantly, in fact), I don’t think it’s fair to penalize the curators for presenting an accurate account of that culture. After all, the criteria Cotter lays out no longer describes “promising-newcomers,” but outsider artists. Younger Than Jesus has it’s flaws, but not sharing the interests of a critic shouldn’t be one of them.

  • http://vivaortegacy.com/ Dave-O

    Well put. I had a problem with that statement and I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was. If Cotter is put off by the lack of ‘fresh’ talent, he should look to a different show and not fault a survey of professional artists for their professionalism.

  • http://vivaortegacy.com/ Dave-O

    Well put. I had a problem with that statement and I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was. If Cotter is put off by the lack of ‘fresh’ talent, he should look to a different show and not fault a survey of professional artists for their professionalism.

  • clafleche

    I saw The Pictures Generation the same day I saw Younger Than Jesus, in that order, and it made me realize something that I’m surprised Cotter didn’t point out: the show at the New Museum is essentially a replica of the one at the Met, updated by 30 years. All of the ideas of new media, appropriation, cultural/social heritage and identification, etc. that Prince and Sherman were exploring are the very same ideas that the group of under-33s are exploring now. The fact that they are engaging a new media rather than an old one doesn’t necessarily, for me, make it any more interesting. In fact, in most cases at the New Museum, I thought that the works dealing with new media such as MySpace, YouTube, etc. were in fact far less interesting seen in a museum rather than on my own computer screen. They lose their novelty aspect, which is what for the most part things like YouTube and MySpace rely on so far as they remain interesting to surf through as an outsider.nnI think that Cotter’s point about art school and art historical references is spot on. I’m tired of seeing young artists with a new style or method simply regurgitating old concepts and models. I know it sells, but it gets very boring to look at. Of course, we always have to acknowledge that there are certain timeless constants so far as artistic ‘ideas’ are concerned, and some repetition is to be taken for granted. But when you are quite literally re-making historical works, it seems maybe all of the discussion about art historical models is reaching its limit.

  • clafleche

    I saw The Pictures Generation the same day I saw Younger Than Jesus, in that order, and it made me realize something that I’m surprised Cotter didn’t point out: the show at the New Museum is essentially a replica of the one at the Met, updated by 30 years. All of the ideas of new media, appropriation, cultural/social heritage and identification, etc. that Prince and Sherman were exploring are the very same ideas that the group of under-33s are exploring now. The fact that they are engaging a new media rather than an old one doesn’t necessarily, for me, make it any more interesting. In fact, in most cases at the New Museum, I thought that the works dealing with new media such as MySpace, YouTube, etc. were in fact far less interesting seen in a museum rather than on my own computer screen. They lose their novelty aspect, which is what for the most part things like YouTube and MySpace rely on so far as they remain interesting to surf through as an outsider.\n\nI think that Cotter’s point about art school and art historical references is spot on. I’m tired of seeing young artists with a new style or method simply regurgitating old concepts and models. I know it sells, but it gets very boring to look at. Of course, we always have to acknowledge that there are certain timeless constants so far as artistic ‘ideas’ are concerned, and some repetition is to be taken for granted. But when you are quite literally re-making historical works, it seems maybe all of the discussion about art historical models is reaching its limit.

  • http://amoryblaine.tumblr.com amory blaine

    I think it’s fair to penalize curators for presenting an accurate account of the art world “culture”. I think it should be fair to horsewhip and pillory them for doing the same. Why let them off the hook for using the “New” Museum to forward a group of individuals already compensated and validated by the market? Or should we break our arms patting them on the back for maintaining an echo chamber of boredoms and neurotic repetitions?

  • http://amoryblaine.tumblr.com amory blaine

    I think it’s fair to penalize curators for presenting an accurate account of the art world “culture”. I think it should be fair to horsewhip and pillory them for doing the same. Why let them off the hook for using the “New” Museum to forward a group of individuals already compensated and validated by the market? Or should we break our arms patting them on the back for maintaining an echo chamber of boredoms and neurotic repetitions?

  • Art Fag City

    I really don’t think it’s fair to say the organizers did very little adventuring when they asked 150 plus art professionals to nominate “worthy candidates” for the show (disclaimer, I was amongst those asked, though no one I recommended was chosen). There’s a pretty intense investment in labor over the course of one year even if you don’t like the results.

    As for the market, it may be true that there’s already validation for many of those artists, but the press release never makes any claims that they were seeking those without commercial recognition. In fact, I’m arguing that what defines this generation more than others, has been their willingness to embrace the market.

    In any event, “an echo chamber of boredoms and neurotic repetitions” seems harsh for this show. Like any large survey show it has its faults, but overall I liked the work. My main complaint has been that you can’t see it.

  • Art Fag City

    I really don’t think it’s fair to say the organizers did very little adventuring when they asked 150 plus art professionals to nominate “worthy candidates” for the show (disclaimer, I was amongst those asked, though no one I recommended was chosen). There’s a pretty intense investment in labor over the course of one year even if you don’t like the results.

    As for the market, it may be true that there’s already validation for many of those artists, but the press release never makes any claims that they were seeking those without commercial recognition. In fact, I’m arguing that what defines this generation more than others, has been their willingness to embrace the market.

    In any event, “an echo chamber of boredoms and neurotic repetitions” seems harsh for this show. Like any large survey show it has its faults, but overall I liked the work. My main complaint has been that you can’t see it.

  • greg.org

    I was actually surfing some work by Judy Chicago this weekend [long story], when her explanation of her “Birth Project” just about drove me crazy:

    “It is very unusual for an artist to work out of direct experience rather than out of the history of art. It requires building a form language almost ‘from scratch.'”

    http://www.throughtheflower.org/page.php?p=12&n=2

    Just a thought, and not a pleasant one.

  • greg.org

    I was actually surfing some work by Judy Chicago this weekend [long story], when her explanation of her “Birth Project” just about drove me crazy:

    “It is very unusual for an artist to work out of direct experience rather than out of the history of art. It requires building a form language almost ‘from scratch.'”

    http://www.throughtheflower.org/page.php?p=12&n=2

    Just a thought, and not a pleasant one.

  • Anon

    So tired of the Younger Than Jesus thing. I’m glad he brought it up though the whole curatorial-marketing endeavor was built upon the idea that marketing alone – “defining the generation___” could sustain a show. It doesn’t. Can’t compare the two shows because who can tell which of the artists will have a long, impactful career of a Sherman or Prince.
    Please don’t give me anymore Ryan Trecartin reviews I can’t watch that for 15 seconds. Pictures was indefinetly more aesthetically and politically aware

  • Anon

    So tired of the Younger Than Jesus thing. I’m glad he brought it up though the whole curatorial-marketing endeavor was built upon the idea that marketing alone – “defining the generation___” could sustain a show. It doesn’t. Can’t compare the two shows because who can tell which of the artists will have a long, impactful career of a Sherman or Prince.
    Please don’t give me anymore Ryan Trecartin reviews I can’t watch that for 15 seconds. Pictures was indefinetly more aesthetically and politically aware

  • http://effartblog.blogspot.com eff.art.blog

    The problem of the commercial “echo chamber” is clearly larger than the New Museum itself, but it’s very disappointing that a museum calling itself New and dedicating great time and resources to a show of very young artists could not step outside the insular commercial art world even a little. Professional artists being professional should indeed be rewarded, but it’s absurd to think that they are the only people out there making anything worthwhile. There are a million wonderful young artists making great work that simply isn’t available in major commercial galleries. The really sad part in my mind is that so much work and information one could not have found 10 years ago is now available online, so it’s relatively easy to find good work that really is fresh.

    I understand that museums have to get fatty donations to exist, and to do that they have to show work by commercially successful artists and appease their donors-collectors. But can’t there be a little balance? Can’t somebody go out on a limb and show some work that we haven’t already seen at all the big art fairs?

  • http://effartblog.blogspot.com eff.art.blog

    The problem of the commercial “echo chamber” is clearly larger than the New Museum itself, but it’s very disappointing that a museum calling itself New and dedicating great time and resources to a show of very young artists could not step outside the insular commercial art world even a little. Professional artists being professional should indeed be rewarded, but it’s absurd to think that they are the only people out there making anything worthwhile. There are a million wonderful young artists making great work that simply isn’t available in major commercial galleries. The really sad part in my mind is that so much work and information one could not have found 10 years ago is now available online, so it’s relatively easy to find good work that really is fresh.

    I understand that museums have to get fatty donations to exist, and to do that they have to show work by commercially successful artists and appease their donors-collectors. But can’t there be a little balance? Can’t somebody go out on a limb and show some work that we haven’t already seen at all the big art fairs?

  • Art Fag City

    @eff.art.blog: Is Mark Essen part of any art market? He comes from the online gamer scene, and to the best of my knowledge has never sold a thing in the Fine Art world. Also Guthrie Lonergan. He’s a net artist without representation who isn’t living off his art. Neither is conceptual artist Adriana Lara as far as I know. Many of the Generational artists do sell work, but certainly the museum has stepped outside of the commercial art world more than you’re claiming. I don’t know about you, but much of the work on display isn’t showing up at the art fairs I’ve seen.

  • Art Fag City

    @eff.art.blog: Is Mark Essen part of any art market? He comes from the online gamer scene, and to the best of my knowledge has never sold a thing in the Fine Art world. Also Guthrie Lonergan. He’s a net artist without representation who isn’t living off his art. Neither is conceptual artist Adriana Lara as far as I know. Many of the Generational artists do sell work, but certainly the museum has stepped outside of the commercial art world more than you’re claiming. I don’t know about you, but much of the work on display isn’t showing up at the art fairs I’ve seen.

  • Art Fag City

    @anon I know this seems nitpicky but Cotter describes an “account” of history not one that is being “defined”. He also does not attribute marketing “alone” as the effect behind the show’s concept, though the suggestion is that it is a major one. I’m making this distinction, because whatever you think of the show, it is important to acknowledge the intentions and contributions of everyone involved. Personally, I think Cotter calls upon his own set of art world myths to further a point.

  • Art Fag City

    @anon I know this seems nitpicky but Cotter describes an “account” of history not one that is being “defined”. He also does not attribute marketing “alone” as the effect behind the show’s concept, though the suggestion is that it is a major one. I’m making this distinction, because whatever you think of the show, it is important to acknowledge the intentions and contributions of everyone involved. Personally, I think Cotter calls upon his own set of art world myths to further a point.

  • David

    I don’t think what Cotter is advocating is actually “outsider art”, and I think his criticisms are superb on this point. Isn’t there a model where curators are involved on the lowest level, applying their thinking to a larger sample than pre-selections by art professionals? One could think of that as their work. When that doesn’t happen, you get something like Younger than Jesus, and the criticism it elicits from Cotter, which garners much sympathy for many of us tired of the role of the market in the art world, represents a very valid viewpoint.

    I’m afraid you’re right Paddy when you point out that this generation’s inclination is to embrace the market.
    But I don’t think that’s a neutral judgement thing, like it was the Pictures generation’s inclination to explore the politics of representation- because the embrace of the market is not neutral, and one of its consequences is the steady loss of any value of art not associated with monetary value. It’s a bad thing. And I guess we’re hoping, the voices in this comment section at least, for a show to come along that represents thoughtful art that is not so ambivalent about the whole economic mechanism facilitating the filling of galleries with objects. If history is the propaganda of the victors, as they say, is art history the propaganda of the collectors? One could argue that Younger than Jesus functions that way.

  • David

    I don’t think what Cotter is advocating is actually “outsider art”, and I think his criticisms are superb on this point. Isn’t there a model where curators are involved on the lowest level, applying their thinking to a larger sample than pre-selections by art professionals? One could think of that as their work. When that doesn’t happen, you get something like Younger than Jesus, and the criticism it elicits from Cotter, which garners much sympathy for many of us tired of the role of the market in the art world, represents a very valid viewpoint.

    I’m afraid you’re right Paddy when you point out that this generation’s inclination is to embrace the market.
    But I don’t think that’s a neutral judgement thing, like it was the Pictures generation’s inclination to explore the politics of representation- because the embrace of the market is not neutral, and one of its consequences is the steady loss of any value of art not associated with monetary value. It’s a bad thing. And I guess we’re hoping, the voices in this comment section at least, for a show to come along that represents thoughtful art that is not so ambivalent about the whole economic mechanism facilitating the filling of galleries with objects. If history is the propaganda of the victors, as they say, is art history the propaganda of the collectors? One could argue that Younger than Jesus functions that way.

  • http://effartblog.blogspot.com eff.art.blog

    @ Art Fag City: I feel like Younger than Jesus puts one toe over line and by doing so sets itself up for harsh words. It is indeed a positive that we see someone like Mark Essen in the show, but you can’t take one little step towards innovation and expect to be patted on the back. You can, however, expect to have people ask you why you only cracked the door open and didn’t take things further.

    I’m elated that people are getting worked up about this, and, after tasting one little nibble of really new stuff being exhibited at a major museum, are saying, “More!” But I am not going to praise any curator for putting on a show that sets itself up to be something really “new” and then mostly perpetuates the status quo.

  • http://effartblog.blogspot.com eff.art.blog

    @ Art Fag City: I feel like Younger than Jesus puts one toe over line and by doing so sets itself up for harsh words. It is indeed a positive that we see someone like Mark Essen in the show, but you can’t take one little step towards innovation and expect to be patted on the back. You can, however, expect to have people ask you why you only cracked the door open and didn’t take things further.

    I’m elated that people are getting worked up about this, and, after tasting one little nibble of really new stuff being exhibited at a major museum, are saying, “More!” But I am not going to praise any curator for putting on a show that sets itself up to be something really “new” and then mostly perpetuates the status quo.

  • Art Fag City

    @David You make good points, I just don’t see this as deeply market inspired, and commericial ready as Cotter does. I also didn’t mean to suggest the market was neutral. It’s not, but I can’t help but feel that the sentiments I see in this comment thread about the market and the artists in the show, are far to black and white to possibly be accurate. Personally, I’d like to see a full list of all the artists in the show, their resumes, and whether they make their living off art. Then we can really start dealing with the details.

    @eff.art.blog But none of the curators are claiming newness (at least not in the press release). Lisa Phillips *suggests* this, but she didn’t put together the show. Many of the artists in this show are close to 33. You’d expect most of those artists to have shown in a gallery or two. I’m not saying Cotter is wrong to want what he wants, I just don’t think it was necessarily inline with the express goals of the show. Generational sorts by age, not by exhibition history.

  • Art Fag City

    @David You make good points, I just don’t see this as deeply market inspired, and commericial ready as Cotter does. I also didn’t mean to suggest the market was neutral. It’s not, but I can’t help but feel that the sentiments I see in this comment thread about the market and the artists in the show, are far to black and white to possibly be accurate. Personally, I’d like to see a full list of all the artists in the show, their resumes, and whether they make their living off art. Then we can really start dealing with the details.

    @eff.art.blog But none of the curators are claiming newness (at least not in the press release). Lisa Phillips *suggests* this, but she didn’t put together the show. Many of the artists in this show are close to 33. You’d expect most of those artists to have shown in a gallery or two. I’m not saying Cotter is wrong to want what he wants, I just don’t think it was necessarily inline with the express goals of the show. Generational sorts by age, not by exhibition history.

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