Massive Links! Arrest for Spray Painting on Oil Painting | Law to Prevent Painting Over Spray Painting

by Whitney Kimball on July 21, 2011 · 18 comments Massive Links

Janine Gordon vs. Ryan McGinley

  • In one of the nuttiest pieces of art news coverage I have ever read, Jonathan Jones of The Guardian delivers a Fox News-esque response to last Sunday's “horrific” defilement of two Poussin paintings in London’s National Gallery. Jones wails that the “mighty work[s]” were just “sitting ducks” at the National Gallery, because just about any one can walk in free of charge. He then implies that this crazy lower-class person, who can afford spray paint but not museum admission, might actually be trying to unlock the “Poussin code,” the key to locating the Holy Grail (he's referring to fictional information from a book that paved the way for the DaVinci Code). Jones concludes that “modern society cannot be trusted — there is too much craziness out there.”  In this depraved era, it was only a matter of time until some psychopath came and shat on everyone's fun, if by “everyone” we're talking about the ten people per year who go to the National Gallery to soak up the glorious Poussins. The last time anyone mentioned Poussin, it was in the breathless campaign to support the National Gallery’s “desperate” bid to “save” the artist’s Sacraments “for the nation”, a dress rehearsal for the Gallery and its Scottish counterpart’s recent purchase of two incredibly expensive Titians. Hey, in the meantime the nation forgot these paintings existed. Is it even possible, anymore, to talk about the Old Masters without drawing from the well of moral outrage and imminent doom? Please? In any case, all press is good press; this is probably the most praise Poussin has gotten in centuries.
  • Also in Britain, a new plan is being proposed to protect street art after a piece of Banksy vandalism was accidentally vandalized. The plan, put forward by members of the city council of Bristol, Banksy’s hometown, would create a register of “all the known valuable public artworks around the city”. So there’s your topic of discussion for the next twenty years: should street artists work with a government-enforced list of “valuable artworks” to preserve the masterworks of their art, or does that entirely destroy many of the most valuable questions of street art? Stake out your positions now!
  • In some further institutionalization, MoMA is actually encouraging this maniacal tagging behavior. “Talk to Me,” opening July 24th, will feature, among other works, technology that enables a paralyzed graffiti artist to tag with his eyes.  The exhibition will focus on how technology transforms our lives, asserting that design is now based on communication.
  • Technological transformation might not be all great.  A study led by Betsy Sparrow, an assistant professor of psychology at Columbia, revealed that people are far less likely to remember information if they believe they can re-Google it later.  This could be bad for net art, but good for performances.
  • I love summer filler stories.  The Village Voice's ten ugliest wedding cakes are pretty much all inedible; I don't mean they taste bad, I mean you often have to navigate a wall of garnishes to very carefully cut into a tower that definitely isn’t structurally sound.  Also they probably taste bad.  My favorite is the extremely unflattering Madame Toussaud-style replica of the bride.
  • Give MIT kids a plastic bottle, water, and bleach, and they'll McGuyver it into a 60-watt bulb.  The Tour of Light is installing water and bleach-filled plastic bottles in the roofs of shanties in the Philippines; during the day, the sunlight channels through the bottle and refracts very bright light into dark, windowless houses. How has no one come up with this earlier?
  • In case you missed it, Gawker has some pictures of a leopard going nuts on some dudes in India, in a moment that makes you really happy cameras are everywhere now. [Editor’s note: Art Fag City does not condone or encourage leopard-maulings.]


Rocky Sun July 22, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Why, oh why does the establishment keep trying to
institutionalize counter-culture? It’s like as though if they manage to add
enough bland they’ll be able to freeze the value of a transient commentary on
modern life. Street art arose as street artists and punk kids attempt to reclaim
an alienating urban landscape and make a mark to express themselves, thereby  promoting social discourse and a sense of connection
to the community.

rights, in principle, seem like a good idea. Give well-known artists an
inalienable right to protect and preserve their art (as well as attribution,
etc.) and priceless cultural artifacts will be preserved for progeny! Banksy’s
gorilla will be protected, and the urban landscape will be enriched.

Much of modern art is conveying its rejection of the status
quo, and I’ve yet to meet many artists who love lawyers and politicians. Even
if the government DOES quantify it all and tries to protect the “valuable
artworks,” seems like that’ll just be a challenge. The Splasher and his progeny will
rise from the ashes to reclaim the purity of the medium. Whenever the law
muddies its hands in artistic waters, everything just ends up a mess.

Fancy_muskrat July 24, 2011 at 9:03 am

“The most praise Poussin has gotten in centuries.” Are you kidding me?  Wonderful books on Poussin have been published over the past decade (T.J. Clark, Todd Olson, Pierre Rosenberg).  Exhibitions have been held.  Poussin’s Abduction of the Sabine Women is the #7 most accessed image on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website.  Just because Poussin is not the latest incarnation of NYC-hipster-art does NOT mean that nobody cares about his work or that “the nation” forgot about him.  The media circus surrounding the defacement of the paintings should not be equated with how Poussin is valued at large.  Geeeeeeeeze. 

Will Brand July 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm

True. And why would a Rabbi, an Irishman, and a blonde be hanging out in the first place? Massive Links is a pretty lighthearted collection of links, dude; it’s not the spearhead of the hipster onslaught, come to destroy your canon. At least, not right now it’s not.

That said, I do think that Met website stat, while interesting, is probably more driven by art history classes than people who just have to see that painting again; I can’t prove that, though, so that’s fine. 

Also, when did we sneaky change “rape” to “abduction”? It seems like only the Met’s doing it. I kinda get it if they’re trying to be closer to the Latin (surely “theft” would be better?) but that’s also totally not the real reason.

Wkimball July 25, 2011 at 5:11 pm

“Are you kidding me?”  Yes. I am.

Curtis Jensen July 25, 2011 at 4:38 pm

It’s hard for me to even convey the level of dismay, shock and revulsion I felt after reading the blurb above about the Poussin vandalism.  The vandalism was sickening enough, but the attitude of the blogger here is actually worse in my mind.  It is difficult for me to even wrap my head around the grotesque dismissiveness of old masters art.  Fox news’ coverage and commentary is over the top and clearly using the crime as an excuse to push it’s agenda of anti-cultural patrimony on the part of the government, but that does not excuse the attitude displayed here by this blog.  Really Poussin is irrelevant?  Can you provide me with a list of the old masters that are relevant so I don’t bother myself with what hasn’t passed muster with you?   I don’t know how a person who claims to even be casually interested in art can just dismiss the works of an artist of another era.  Perhaps you need to spend sometime in the free galleries yourself.

Will Brand July 26, 2011 at 3:28 am

As the editor who okay’ed this, I’ll step up. 

Firstly, you’re not going to get anywhere criticizing our appreciation of art or our professionalism. We do this all day, and while that doesn’t at all mean we’re infallible, it does mean we’ve spent plenty of time in galleries, and looked at plenty of Poussins. I think you’ll find an abundance of artists, writers, and curators willing to tell you just how engaged we are. Further, the idea that we’re imposing on you by providing our views (“Can you provide me with a list…”) is nonsense; we’re critics, this is what we do. You don’t have to listen to us, but art criticism is a pretty established field, and there’s no use crying foul when it continues to exist. Frankly, if we had the time, we would gladly provide you with such a list. 

More to the point, you seem to mostly have a problem with us calling Poussin irrelevant. Whitney never used that term (I can understand its implication), but I’ll spare us that argument: I, Will Brand, say Poussin is irrelevant. Poussin is irrelevant in the same way Colonial Williamsburg is irrelevant. Poussin is irrelevant in the same way re-enacting Galileo dropping balls from the Leaning Tower of Pisa is irrelevant. The importance of understanding the consequences of history does not lead inexorably to an importance of personal engagement with its artifacts. Further, Poussin’s work is irrelevant in the same way player pianos are irrelevant: player pianos were created to respond to a particular desire in society, fulfilled that desire, and needed no outrage or despair at their passing. If you ascribe to art any social significance at all, it must be admitted that that social significance is impermanent and tied to the conditions of its making: Poussin, like all great artists, made art with the culture, values, and problems of his audience in mind, and given the vast differences we understand as self-evident between ourselves and 17th Century Italians, it doesn’t make sense that we should take for granted some continuing relevance in what 17th Century Italians enjoyed. They shit in buckets, imprisoned their daughters until adulthood, and lived as thralls to the Catholic Church. It is entirely true that Poussin offers some continued aesthetic and historical interest, and that artists occasionally draw upon him as they draw upon Kant, Wittgenstein, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Baudrillard, and Campbell’s Soup. He is not, however, relevant. My apologies to the massive pedagogical structures that told you so, without regard for your experience as a human or your life as it is lived.

Anonymous July 26, 2011 at 3:45 am

This isn’t an argument per se, but on the first page of a Google image search for “Poussin” was this: Google thinks that Nicolas Poussin and this kitty cat are on the same page, literally. 

Poussin is about as relevant as any image that can provoke some sort of feeling, rage or otherwise, in any viewer/beholder. Depending on the situation, he’s as relevant as a Warhol or a subway advertisement. 

Fancy_muskrat August 4, 2011 at 3:46 pm

“Poussin is irrelevant.” This is a pretty categorical statement to be making and it basically assumes that history itself is not relevant for our contemporary society.  If you really believe this, it appears that the “massive pedagogical complex” has really failed you more than it has apparently failed those who think that Poussin’s work (and the works of other “irrelevant” artists) has something to teach us today.  Paintings don’t stop being relevant because time marches on and somehow leaves them in the past.  By virtue of careful looking, we are the ones that make past art relevant when we walk into a museum and give it our attention.  Poussin’s paintings are so much more than historical artifacts and I find it disappointing that you would actually bother to defend what was a ridiculous thing to say in the first place.  Why not pick on bad contemporary art instead?  

Will Brand August 10, 2011 at 6:12 pm

This doesn’t actually reject any of my argument.

Firstly, I write more negative reviews than anybody. I pick on bad contemporary art all the time. Here’s a link:

Secondly, you’re conflating my statement of difference with some idea of modernist progress, and implying that rejection of the latter (as is very trendy right now) is sufficient to reject the former. This is not the case. I never said 17th Century Italians were inferior to us, or that the movement of years towards larger integers made humans of the past lesser; only that their concerns were different, and you haven’t said anything about that. You’re absolutely right that time doesn’t leave artists in the past. We could live for millenia listening to Prince and getting perms, and Julian Schabel would always be cool and relevant and interesting. The issue isn’t time changing, it’s culture changing, and I thought I made that clear. Also, thanks for calling me dumb.

Oh, and “careful looking”, like “close reading”, is a term used for the extra effort you go through to extract meaning when something doesn’t speak to you at first glance. It’s also a term used by art professionals to perpetuate the idea that understanding art involves some rareified kind of vision that ordinary folks can’t hope to attain intuitively (didn’t anybody read “Inside the White Cube”?). “Careful looking”, as a verb, has nothing to do with the quality of its direct object.

Edit: Also, just as a forewarning, if you plan on coming at me with some kind of middlebrow human essentialism where we all exist outside history and Poussin is one of the magical chosen few who speaks to the core of what it means to exist, son I will tear you apart.

Pluswit August 5, 2011 at 7:37 am

Hi Will,

This might be of interest to you:

Anonymous August 5, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Same Old Art took the time to write a few well composed sentences, but did anyone bother to read what Whitney and Will wrote before categorically describing the site not about criticism? For one thing, can we not just acknowledge that what Jonathan Jones is saying is a little crazy? Poussin paintings and others like are not sitting ducks because a museum is free. Crazy people are not a product of modern times – they’ve always existed. 

For another, and this is important, neither Whitney nor Will said the work had no historical value. Why are we still talking about this issue as though they had? Sure Will says he’s irrelevant, and while that may not be true for the commenters here, it’s surely not the case for many others. When we start seeing Poussin in student and artist studios across the country, we’ll be able to make a claim that Poussin directly influences contemporary art making and is relevant in that capacity. Until then, I don’t see the problem with Whitney or Will’s statements. (I’ve literally visited thousands to studios in Canada, the US and abroad over the past five years and in that time seen only one student who even had a book of his work. I did however see countless reproductions of the New Museum’s Unmonumental show. One is clearly more relevant than the other to contemporary practice, and to say otherwise isn’t to disregard the importance of history, but merely to acknowledge the books students and artists are pulling out most often.)Anyway, although it’s not stated anywhere on the site, I should note, finally, that Whitney is herself a painter. If Ad Reinhardt can write a treatise on how black paintings are the best paintings, I think we can allow her a little room here. Part of reading criticism, is learning to understand the source, so that as a reader you get more out of it. Try to do that. 

Will Brand August 10, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Black paintings suck. White paintings are the best paintings.

(I have lots of black friends so I can say that.)

Chad Laird July 26, 2011 at 6:22 am

This is funny! It’s funny because the problem is how we demand that art be relevant. If, as corrinakirsch writes, we desire art to be relevant as something that can “provokes some sort of  feeling,” then yes, all art is equally meaningless and irrelevant! But if we think think historically, we can probably begin to realize that saying “Poussin is irrelevant” is pretty much the same thing as saying “the invention of the combustion engine is irrelevant” or “the French Revolution is irrelevant,” which is pretty much what Will was saying by saying the opposite of that. Nice!

Will Brand July 26, 2011 at 6:36 am

Just looking for a feeling is setting the bar pretty low; a better question, I think, is what the work of Poussin tells us or provokes in us – that we didn’t already know. 

Also, just to clarify, the French Revolution isn’t irrelevant, but the remains of the Bastille are mute stone. 

Chad Laird July 26, 2011 at 7:14 am

And I think the question you raise – for whom has Poussin ever been relevant? – is the really interesting one, since he was historically relevant to a small coterie of super rich Italian guys who were deeply invested in constructing their own political relevance. Quite distinct from the universal relevance we are expected to assign to such works today.

Corinna Kirsch July 26, 2011 at 3:37 pm

“Feeling” is the tamer word I meant to describe an overwhelming, “OMG! What am I now doing with my life that this image is making me act in a different way?” moment.  Yes, about my previous comment, sometimes art is an image like any other. Poussin’s more like a subway ad for the moment – people love to express Sharpie discontent all over those. 

If we resort to valuing art for its historical relevance, then it turns into a really boring archival document, like written correspondence between artists. I don’t need to look at letters in a museum or gallery setting to get what the letters are about. It doesn’t mean they’re irrelevant; I just don’t need to see them in a museum.

The best way to discuss Poussin’s relevance now, if at all, consists of seeing the work in person and what beholding it means about the way we’re expected to understand art as a visual practice and how that way of seeing has changed historically. Appealing to any “art history for art history’s sake” argument has less at stake than one based on an art that’s about active looking, not just history.

Pluswit July 27, 2011 at 6:45 am

“…then it turns into a really boring archival document…”

If something is boring, it must be me!

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