The End of Subjectivity? (Bernard Frize)

I wrote this essay after seeing the works of French “process painter”, Bernard Frize. Taken together with my impressions of the first museum show of Rana Begum at the Sainsbury Centre, it’s obvious that art is undergoing a seismic shift which mirrors the changes taking place in contemporary society. The quoted texts are from a fantastic essay by curator Eva Wittocx.

THE ARTIST AS LABOURER: “Frize burst the cult of the artist as a creator. In his view, the artist is not above anyone else: he is merely a ‘labourer’ who produces paintings.

THE REPUDIATION OF SUBJECTIVITY: As opposed to Abstract Expressionists who sought to express a certain emotion, Frize does not use painting as a ‘medium’ to express something. Therefore, the public need not decode the subjective content of a Frize painting. There is none. Rather, Frize’s art is the result of experimenting with process and technique to achieve different visual outcomes.

THE DEMOCRATISATION OF THE ARTISTIC PROCESS: Indeed, “Frize wants the public to be able to deduce every choice the artist makes from the work of art: ‘Every decision of the artist, the public must be able to infer from the painting. The public must be able to find out how the painting has been made, as if it had painted the work itself.” Reasoning logically, tracing the stream of paint, trying to read the combinations of colours, the public is able – without resorting to any frame of reference – to deduce directly how the work was created. To erase any suggestion of subjectivity, Frize moreover applies a glossy layer of resin to the canvas, so that any painterly effects attributable to materiality are eliminated, assuring the complete detachment of his paintings. All this is not to say that Frize’s paintings provoke no emotional or psychological response within the viewer. No, not at all. Simply, the public projects its own subjectivity and longings for expressive content on his artworks.

The ascendancy of artists like Frize and Rana Begum force one to ask, are we entering a new phase of art which prefers technique and effect over the masterful expression of affect? (By the way, the Centre Pompidou will be staging a retrospective of Frize’s work in 2019.) Will we one day regard artworks created to express a subjective idea or emotion as old-fashioned and quaint? That day is not around the corner. But the increasing recognition and popularity of “process art” mean that we badly want art to represent more than a veiled message.

[To see larger images of Frize’s art, see the online galleries of his work at Simon Lee Gallery and Galerie Perrotin.]

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Daily Mind-ful 26 May 2017 (Central Saint Martins Graduation Show)

I make it down to London to catch the graduation show at Central Saint Martins between housefuls of guests; in Saint Pancras, a surprisingly high end train station, I ask the information desk about the closest exit to the Central Saint Martins campus and the Eastern European attendant has never even heard of the university; this is exactly the kind of thing which provokes outrage among Brexiters — and for good reason; there’s a ton of construction going on around the CSM campus; I FINALLY make it to uber-trendy Indian restaurant, Dishoom, but because it’s before 12 noon, they’re not serving rice, only breakfast foods. That’s a HUGE disappointment — because I’m Asian! My friend, Silvy, who graduated from Central Saint Martins last year, tells me that the students are getting ripped off by the university because the maximum face time with their tutor is 30 minutes per term, meaning a grand total of 90 minutes per year. That’s terrible. But making things far worse, she recounts how her tutor was expressly prohibited by the school’s management from spending additional time with any single student because it would make all the other tutors look bad. Teachers are not permitted to do the equivalent of uncompensated over-time because it makes all the other teachers look bad. It means that well-intentioned tutors are expressly proscribed from making themselves available for additional office hours with students, even on a voluntary basis; that’s a terrible indictment of the school’s culture: the deans are clearly more concerned about keeping order and maximizing enrollment rather than looking out for students’ interests; the same inadequacy of resourcing applies to the studio space allocated to students; there’s not enough of it, so most students do their projects at home; Silvy describes her experience at CSM as “a huge rip-off”; #CSMcome is the worst social media hashtag ever! We’re among the first people to enter the exhibition space and the students are still getting ready; I commit myself to filming positive feedback only but it’s hard NOT to be critical of many of the projects; Silvy reminds me that these are students and that I shouldn’t lay into them too hard; there’s way too much gratuitous incorporation of technology; the projects by the following students impressed me, for different reasons: Jessica Oag-Cooper, Hannah Willcocks, Olwyn Carroll; Silvy shows me a typical room allocated for 45 students’ studio space: it’s obviously inadequate; Central Saint Martins doesn’t emphasize technical skills or craft and that’s obvious from the graduation show (unfortunately); we visit a room upstairs is signed with a content warning outside the door – that these exhibitions might shock. They’re pretty tame and only slightly thought-provoking, transposing the sound of porn to footage of food consumption and swapping virtual guns for three-dimensional, “real” ones in a video game; the video art is probably the strongest corpus of work among all the genres on show; 80% of the projects I saw were impenetrable and left me feeling puzzled; the others were disappointing because they lacked originality or impeccable execution; there were less than five projects I would have termed outstanding; to speak with total honesty, I was seriously underwhelmed by the entire thing and I’m not sure whether it was worth the huge schlep out to Saint Pancras from the country; I rush back home to welcome my friend Michael from Hong Kong; he had to lug an entire suitcase to England in order to bring me a handbag I ordered from D’Auchel, a new accessories company based in Hong Kong; the reversible tote bag has been made entirely by hand and is comprised of hand-stitched leather panels in three different colors; John models it to singular effect.
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Daily Mind-ful 19 May 2017 (Zabludowicz Collection)

My standards for my son’s behavior are pretty low: as long as he’s not a drug addict and doesn’t contract AIDS, I’m happy; I don’t look down on affordable art fairs. If anything, I like their obvious raison d’etre; high-end art fairs are the same thing but with a circus of snobbery around them; I visit the Primrose Hill studio of Djordje Ozbolt with Olga Ovenden, a London-based art consultant who, in addition to privately consulting clients one-on-one, also conducts art tours in London (and elsewhere, like Venice); Ozbolt’s paintings are vivid, sardonically whimsical and he himself appears to be incredibly hung-over accounting for why he prefers to let his gallerist do the talking; no matter, it’s an interesting excursion which allows me to capture the customary format of Ovenden’s art tours on film; I’m bummed I didn’t meet Ozbolt earlier because I definitely would have checked out his exhibition, The Grand Detour, at Holborn House last year; our next stop is the Zabludowicz Collection which is housed inside a private museum located in Primrose Hill; Paul Luckcraft, the Exhibitions Director, gives us a private tour and it’s a huge treat, because of Paul’s insight and glibness, which totally belie his youthfulness; in contrast with Photo London, which I liken to drinking from a fire hydrant without slaking my thirst, Luckcraft’s careful and restrained curation speak volumes about the evolution of art photography, with the main exhibition entitled “You are looking at something that never occurred,” containing images from Lucas Blalock, Sara Cwynar, Andreas Gursky, Elad Lassry, Richard Prince, Thomas Ruff, Cindy Sherman, Wolfgang Tillmans and Jeff Wall, among others; I’m introduced to the layered reworkings of Blalock and Cwynar for the first time at the Zabludowicz Collection and find their images fresh and timely; Photo London proves the point: there are too many “art” photographers working within the arena of traditional method. Any keen observer of photography over the decades can see that these “purists” are now grasping at straws because of the universal availability of good, affordable cameras; finally, after an insanely jam-packed week in London, I’m back home! The best fish & chippery in Suffolk is in The Codfather, in Sudbury, my nabe; as I get older, I’m beginning to suffer from what I call “rolling short-term memory loss”; the main reason that Instagram stories are addictive is because they’re literally kinetic; Stories are a great way to winnow away Instagrammers who are a waste of protoplasm, either because they have personalities which repel you or because of their sheer vapidity (especially if they post prolifically); another sin is overweening vanity, a widespread symptom among striving fashionistas who seek to telegraph their desirability as clotheshorses and VIP guests; making matters worse, these same would-be divas, use the word “like” every few seconds and end every declarative sentence as if it was a question.
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Daily Mind-ful 17 May 2017 (Goldfinger Factory)

You can’t live in Primrose Hill unless you’re a super high achiever, based on the caliber of speakers featured in the neighborhood’s lecture series. WOW! I book a ticket to the Philip Glass/Laurie Anderson concert at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival after picking up a program guide at the Colchester train station; I visit Westbourne for a reunion with my former intern, Marie. The neighborhood looks gritty as hell but is apparently trendy these days; Marie and her partner, Oliver, have founded a sprawling social enterprise called Goldfinger Factory. The main nut of it is a B2B carpentry operation which employs local craftspeople to make premium custom furniture plus a retail operation selling upcycled recycled furniture and a restaurant in Westbourne Grove, all of the same name. (Oh yeah, they’re also operating an incubator!) The long-term intention is to train and employ local people to custom-make upcycled furniture on a large scale basis. Marie interned for me at Shanghai Tang three years running so I’m not surprised at all — just impressed by the ambitious scale of her business. We eat gorgeous Italian food in the cafe so I can experience as much of Goldfinger Factory as possible during the scant hour I’m in Westbourne Grove. I then hop in a cab to meet up with a friend at Photo London, an overwhelming, confused affair which leaves me feeling like the photography industry is in a deep existential malaise. What accounts for my dissatisfaction with the fair? There was no curation, it was nakedly commercial and all different species of photography were jumbled together; I join up with a friend who brings me to a jewelry event, my first one in many, many months. It feels weird to be attending such a youthful and patently superficial event where making selfies with the designer, Ara Vartanian, is more important than inspecting the cutting-edge diamond jewels; so glad that I don’t have to host events like that any more, because that was my life before; the bank of photographers and we wait for a VIP to exit from a black car, in a moment of Instagram bated breath; alas, it’s “only” Suzy Menkes, meaning that no flash bulbs went off and there was zero fanfare; just to be clear, Menkes is a god for me and I’d be happy to intern for her any day; the best way not to lose an umbrella is to take a photo of the one you’re using on the day and to make it the screensaver of your smartphone for as long as you’re carrying it — and in danger of losing it; my friend takes me to Hunan, one of the best restaurants in London, in any category or cuisine. They serve an endless menu of Chinese dishes, tapas style. Unless you ask them to stop, they won’t. At course sixteen, Ming says, “Don’t go all white on me. You’re not allowed to stop eating.”
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Daily Mind-ful 16 May 2017 (Rosey Chan)

John goes back to the country, leaving me to my own devices. YAY! Now that he’s gone, I can expatiate more on Rosey Chan’s concert at the Cafe Royal Hotel from the night before. The concert brought together ideas, music, and elements from very disparate sources. For example, there was a spoken word piece featuring Fanny Ardant and a filmic backdrop provided by Chan’s long-time partner, Mike Figgis. Rosie Chan and Mike FiggisChan’s artistic practice combines not only very different types of music but a wide range of cultural references. Long before it became commonplace – or even a necessity – to master a wide range of expertise, Chan lived and breathed the life of a modern-day Renaissance woman, romping between centuries and cultures,
to create a corpus of work which defies easy classification, except for the cornerstone of keyboard instruments; on the necessity, today, of being a jack-of-all-trades, a new graduate who seeks to make a living as a writer can’t just write brilliantly. They must be able to promote themselves effectively on social media, create and continuously update their own website and, these days, make video content to accompany their written work. For that matter, it’s hard to stand out in a crowd unless you know how to aggressively promote and distinguish yourself from your peers; if you’re still ensconced in a cushy corporate job, these prescriptions don’t apply to you. But keep in mind that your species is now officially instinct and, therefore, hold on very tight to that job! My first outing of the day is to the Saatchi Gallery and the exhibition, From Selfie to Self-Expression, which turns out to be much more thought-provoking than I ever would have expected; first, the display of Old Master paintings in the format of continuously moving slideshows projected on video monitors means that viewers must pay much closer attention than usual to the artworks in order to ensure that they don’t miss anything on display, no doubt a paradoxical result for viewers unaccustomed to paying more than a few nano-seconds of attention to anything; next, there’s no original artwork on the ground floor at all. Such a presentation asks the question: without any presentation of real artwork or consideration of its materiality, isn’t this “art exhibition” really a conceptual exercise which could have taken place outside of a museum? Not having to consider materiality means I can blow through the exhibition FAST; just met with the executive director and communications director of fantastic London-based, art non-profit, Studio Voltaire. Studio Voltaire promotes and brings attention to emerging and, sometimes, ignored, artists, like Phyllida Barlow who represented Great Britain at this year’s Venice Biennale; can’t believe Fabio Fognini beat Andy Murray at this year’s Rome Open! It’s Murray’s worst match in FOUR YEARS; my fave Indian restaurants in London aren’t Gymkhana or Trishna. But non-trendy Zayna. And my absolute fave, Chutney Mary.
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Daily Mind-ful 15 May 2017 (London)

I cut my fringe — and myself — before heading to London; I realize that The Mall and Pall Mall are two different places in London! I check out the annual exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, the best resource for commissioning a traditional portrait if you live in the UK, with the artists painting across a huge and very affordable range of styles and price; I love being a tourist in London because I’m married to a great tour guide; we visit the Cabinet War Rooms now called the Churchill War Rooms, from which Churchill ran Britain’s WWII campaign because 10 Downing Street was destroyed by bombs; for the first time, I realize that, rather than developing a cold, the air pollution is causing my scratchy throat; our next stop is the National Gallery and the temporary exhibition, Michelangelo & Sebastiano. It doesn’t spark my imagination much. Instead, the exhibition fleshes out an important historical footnote in Michelangelo’s career: that he joined forces with Sebastiano del Piombo, in order to compete better with Raphael when the latter began to enjoy favor among the same patrons. Their styles and contributions to the various artworks on display were very different but didn’t elevate the works on show to anything spectacular or memorable. Then again, I should point out that I’m not a wild devotee of Renaissance art; though we went to three museums, I feel pretty uninspired; the highlight of my day is actually the benefit recital of Rosey Chan, a friend and multi-disciplinary musician, who plays a very unusual concatenation of accordion, electronica and classical piano, in a recital to benefit the hard-hitting non-profit, Client Earth, lawyers advocating on behalf of the ultimate client, Planet Earth, and to launch her own LP — YES, a pressed vinyl album — entitled “Eight Years of My Life,” containing works written during, you guessed it, the last eight years of Rosey’s life; we end the evening with an exquisite dinner at our favorite restaurant in London, The Greenhouse; the last clip documents an unexpected and thoughtful detail from the chef – a small ball of putty stuck underneath the souffle ramekin to prevent it from slipping off the saucer, a detail which impresses and delights John.
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Daily Mind-ful 12 May 2017 (The Red House)

LUCKY me: The director of the Britten Pears Foundation gives me a personal tour of The Red House, Benjamin Britten‘s home, which he shared with his partner, Peter Pears, until his death in 1976; the Red House gives visitors unwonted access and intimate proximity to Britten and Pears’ life because not only has the house been conserved in exactly the condition in which it was left, without having guard rails or glass exhibit cases installed to separate members of the public from Britten and Pears’ possessions. But all of the couple’s personal possessions, such as their clothes, accessories, board games and gew gaws, have been left in the house, as if they had just gone out for a walk. The lack of physical barriers between the public and its objects of curiosity and wonderment made for an intimate and affecting viewing experience which made me think about the nature of museum-going in general. The interposition of barriers in and of itself creates an instant atmosphere of awe and reverence which may or may not be justified by the quality/design/provenance of the objects actually being protected. Yet we experience this knee-jerk reaction because of how we have grown up thinking of museums. Therefore, we tend to give instant credit and respect to the objects behind the guard rails (when, in some cases, they might be utter crap, actually). What else impressed and even astonished me was the museum’s exhibition, Queer Talk, a historical exposition and celebration of the 50th anniversary of homosexuality’s decriminalization in Britain. You have to remember that the museum is located in rural Suffolk (Aldeburgh), an area where mostly conservative, older people voted for Brexit, making this exhibition, with its open message of liberal, progressive tolerance, discomfiting by definition. Hats off to the Director though!
It takes guts, leadership and vision to take The Red House in such a direction and proves that she is a torchbearer of the Britten’s unconventional lifestyle and career; I drove over to Snape Maltings after The Red House to meet with Roger Wright, the director of the entire Snape Maltings complex, which, these days, encompasses Aldeburgh Music, the Aldeburgh Festival and the retail complex formerly owned by the Gooderhams, a Suffolk family. I was treated to a personal tour of the whole shebang, which was a privilege and treat.
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Daily Mind-ful 11 May 2017 (Higgins Museum)

[Click the full screen icon at the bottom right corner of the video in order to watch it in normal, much larger format.]
Main reason to watch today’s vlog: I discover the Higgins Museum during my day trip to visit photographer and artist, Edgar Martins, in his studio in Bedford, England. Today’s the first hot day of the year.
HOORAY; listening to too much easy, pop music is like eating junk food for all three meals in a day – not healthy or nutritious for the mind; I meet Edgar Martins, brilliant photographer-artist at his studio in Bedford and am blown away by his intensity, ideas and eloquence. Definitely a Maxell blow-the-hair-back moment!
The use of photography is incidental to his practice. In fact, his formation is philosophy and semiotics, explaining, perhaps, why I felt like I was talking to myself (for better or worse, poor guy). You can judge for yourself once you see my short film about him;
I check out Bedford and, like so many ancient English towns and cities, its historic center is beautiful and charming; I end up canning my plan to hoof it over to the Milton Keynes Art Gallery in favor of the local Higgins Museum, highly recommended by Edgar;
Higgins Museum (Bedford)
It’s always difficult for hard-core enthusiasts of contemporary art to understand my interest in every single period of art but I welcome learning about any period or style of art or, for that matter, new sub-culture; whereas the exhibition about the local airship manufacturer holds zero interest for me, the exhibition of pre-Raphaelite, Victorian painting is fascinating – mostly because this is such a little-referenced, infrequently exhibited, comparatively unpopular period of English art. Yet the quality of the captioning and exemplars at the Higgins easily propels me through it. The Higgins Museum has a very large collection of artworks from every period through the Modern period, so it stages exhibitions (like this one) in order to rotate the collection for public view; I continue my wander through the restored Higgins residence, once the home of the wealthy brewery-owning family who founded the museum and am delighted by the collection of English decorative arts. In my opinion, the best part of the museum is the design gallery, which gives a fantastic, capsule overview of the evolution and history of English decorative arts from the 16th century through the Arts & Crafts period, with an emphasis on Victorian era artifacts and furniture; by the way, I’m a nutter for Meissen porcelain, believe it or not. Deep inside, I’m an unrepentant maximalist who believes that minimalism and all-black are unforgivable design cop-outs; the Higgins Museum contains a large collection of graphic design and printed materials from Edward Bawden, one of England’s leading graphic artists, who passed away in the 1980s; I finally leave the museum — and Bedford — and what a gem of a visit! You never know what you will find tucked away in a quiet corner of England, explaining my willingness to drive far and wide to burrow into its nooks and crannies.
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Daily Mind-ful 7 May 2017 (Hampton Court Palace)

Hampton Court Palace: Henry VIII’s Great Hall was the largest hall in England at the time and features giant, wall-to-wall tapestries of exquisite artistry and condition. Even if you’re not into tapestries (because I’m not), it’s a gobsmacker of a room; the chic floor pillows are emblematic of Historic Royal Palaces, the caretaking organization of Hampton Court Palace, and wouldn’t look out of place in a house today; extremely elaborate napkin and fabric folding was an art form during the Tudor period; headless paper sculptures representing various courtiers flesh out the tableaux of court life within many of the rooms within the Palace and are, in and of themselves, wonderful masterworks of contemporary paper craft; while the palace is crammed with portraits (too many to notice after a while), the best paintings are exhibited in the Cumberland Art Gallery, which boasts many true masterpieces by Van Dyck, Holbein and Rembrandt. The quality of the artworks displayed in this wing (where photography is prohibited) is a definite cut above the rest of the palace’s paintings and one of the high points of Hampton Court Palace; the chapel garden (with its unfortunate green and white striped railings) boasts a series of colourful metalwork animals perched at the top of decorative, heraldic posts.

The undisputed artistic, decorative and creative highlight of my visit was the Guard Room in William III’s apartments, because of the bold geometric arrays of weapons — 3000 fully operational, impeccably polished and maintained ones — lining the upper walls of the chamber. The jaw-dropping display, originally conceived to impress and intimidate visiting generals and dignitaries, undoubtedly achieved its desired effect then — and now, if my own reaction is any indication.

I was so wowed by this room that I made a separate short clip about it for Instagram; each chimney at Hampton Court Palace has a different design. The brickwork of the Palace is maintained by a neighbouring business, 300-year old Bulmer Brick Yard located a stone’s throw away from our house; the yew trees at the Palace make you feel like a mini Alice in Wonderland; we were treated to a game of “real tennis” which, based on casual observations, combines tennis, squash and net goals. (My tennis coach told me later that there are courts and a league quite close to Little Henny but that it’s easy to injure yourself because the balls are rock-hard and, therefore, tennis elbow is a real risk.)

To sum up the highlights: 1) The Guard Room in the apartments of William III; the Cumberland Art Gallery; the gardens; and real tennis, provided there’s an actual match going on. (Without the animation of a live match, it’s just a narrow room with nets.); Sadly, our banner day at Hampton Court was marred by the nightmarish logistics of getting back home! We arrived at Liverpool Street Station and discovered that virtually all the trains on our line were canceled. Consequently, we took a train to Stansted and then an Uber to the car park of Colchester train station. Lesson learned: NEVER expect or plan to take a train on Sunday!

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Daily Mind-ful 3 May 2017 (The evolution of the photographic image)

[Main topic of this vlog: I explain why I want to write a book about the evolution of the photographic image and associate, riff and reflect free-form on the subject.] I leave London at an ungodly hour in order to meet John at the antique dealers’ fair in Long Melford; I end up buying an Ironstone pitcher from the turn of the century; I’m intimidated to walk around the hall by myself because it’s full of (only) superannuated white men. Yes, I’m serious; My favorite house in the countryside (so far): the pink house in the center of Cavendish; I seriously mull the idea of writing two books, one about environmental photography, the other about the evolution of the photographic image over the past thirty years, especially these past ten; Not only should the evolution of the image itself be considered (technically and technologically) but the ethical and societal implications of these shifts and what they mean for our interactions with others, our self-image, our morality, etc. THAT is the principal reason why such a book would be fascinating and why this question has piqued my interest so ferociously; Here are the issues about the evolution of the photographic image that I have identified very quickly: 1) photoshopping, its prevalence and universal acceptance 2) the selfie (and its implications for our body image, self-image and psychology) and 3) the democratization of photography (i.e., the phenomenon of everyone becoming a photographer); documentary, “objective” reportage in the style of the Magnum photographers has mostly gone out of fashion and been replaced by a much more subjective style of photography which uses photography as the instrumentality of content or messaging, frequently activist-style messaging, to wit, environmental photography; that’s largely explained by the democratization of photographic technology which enables the man on the street to mimic the style of most news photographers these days. It means that the value-added of the photographic image originally conferred by mastery of equipment and darkroom processes has been replaced, of necessity, by content and meaning. To my mind, that’s a major and welcome improvement in the culture of photography; similarly, realistic, gritty photography in the style of Terry Richardson and Terry Jones (ID Magazine) are now outmoded; gardening is futile – by definition. I don’t get it; not having a Facebook page is really stupid because Instagram is a really impoverished and unsuitable platform for sharing third-party content, especially textual or lengthy, or, for that matter, my long-form rants about capitalism, art, the environment, millennials, child rearing, etc.; my favorite stories on Instagram are Eva Chen‘s because she’s so real, with huge doses of thankfulness and humility. Plus, she’s completely average-looking; My vlogging as a talking head is stymied because my intention to vlog about The Week, my favorite magazine in the whole world, has been defeated by the near unanimity of commentary on the past three weeks of headline news, dammit! (The Week’s strength is collating and summarizing the full range of political opinion on the same issue, news or topic, even when those opinions are diametrically opposed to one another); totally psyched to discover that Macron’s wife is way older than him; and that he may also be bi – ha!
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