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 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 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 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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Daily Mind-ful 2 May 2017 (Museum of Childhood)

This Daily Mind-ful clip is mostly about my visit to V&A’s Museum of Childhood, so I’m going to dispense with the customary recapping of every Instagram story contained in the accompanying video and share my impressions about the Museum and why it’s a destination as entertaining and enriching for adults as it is children.
Although a parade of prams and baby buggies greets you at the entrance, the museum’s huge collection of toys, dolls, games, party favors, costumes and childhood whatnots archived since Victorian times is a treasure trove for the most exigent adult socioanthropologist studying the stuff of childhood over the generations. What’s missing, however, is exhibits dated after 2000, as if childhood ceased to evolve, when, in fact, the stark opposite is the case. Indeed, my main impression of the museum was a rueful sense that, in one or two generations, childhood and adulthood have converged – possibly to the point where there’s no longer anything to separately archive for the former. Considering that the material artifacts of childhood amassed over one hundred years could undoubtedly cover the surface area of a few small countries, the museum’s curators have chosen objects which are not only good exemplars of their age but idiosyncratic, eccentric, exquisite or weird in many cases. As a bonus, adult art, such as Sarah Raphael’s sculptural Childhood Cube and Rachel Whiteread’s large collection of dollhouses, “Place (Village)”, punctuates the exhibition halls as a sort of meta-commentary on childhood, its obsessions and playthings. In one of the captions, the museum states “all creativity has a value,” espousing a highly progressive vision of childhood education which dovetails perfectly with its embrace of multi-ethnic, multi-culturalism, a theme expressed with multi-lingual captioning in one of the exhibits. (I didn’t bother to scratch the surface of that exhibition and only noticed the unorthodox signage.) Last but not least, I was struck by “Searching for Ghosts,” the thought-provoking exhibition about Britain’s housing crisis in the front hall of the museum. It certainly wasn’t for children and featured photographic portraits by Tom Hunter of families living in one of London’s original council estates. While it wasn’t a suitable diversion for a child, the art made sense in the context of families, households and their inhabitants and asked viewers to engage with a pressing civic issue. The name “Museum of Childhood” doesn’t reflect the kaleidoscopic richness of this museum, not at all. Suffice it to say that I walked through it like a kid in a candy store.
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Daily Mind-ful 27 April 2017 (music discovery)

I start the day with a Facebook fail; I’m interviewing photographer, Edgar Martins, next week in London, at the recommendation of a FORMAT Festival curator. Like Konstantin Bessmertny, whom I just vlogged about, he’s from Macau!; it’s outrageous that Maria Sharapova is back on the professional tennis circuit; my 18-year old son is much more organised than I am; experiencing a crisis of self-confidence after realising it won’t be easy to start my new business, I call an old, very good friend, who spurs me on to hustle, a simple but effective exhortation; I spent most of my day editing footage of FORMAT’s artistic director, Louise Clement Mazmanian; much of my day is about music discovery: one of the best resources for royalty-free music is a site called PremiumBeat; after listening to countless tracks on the site, I find a perfect backing track for a project; but of course, I can’t buy it until the client has A-OKed it. Therefore, and in the meantime, I need suggestions from you for an interim specimen backing track which can be used for aural illustration. Any ideas?; pressed for time, I listen to the work of Johann Johannsson who composed the music for Arrival to find a suitably uplifting “human drama” track; his music is perfect; in a related observation: it’s interesting to note how contemporary classical music which is otherwise unbearable to listen to takes on a totally different sci-fi character once the sound of a distorted human voice is overlaid, another, different type of music discovery. You listen to the track in question here; tonight is one of the only occasions when I have to look semi-decent because I have a dinner with civilised people — in the countryside. Not being able to find the single one piece of clothing I’m looking for, a pair of brown corduroys, I put on a Dior Homme suit instead and wear it with my faux mucking out boots from Frye; having been in the fashion industry for so many years, I can make almost any outfit match; I never owned or bought a pair of brown shoes my entire life — until now — giving you some idea of how I’ve been a country chic virgin until now; dinner with the Brexiters was fun and memorable. Contrary to what you may think, there are quite a few people like me in the countryside!; it’s long overdue to vlog, with myself as the talking head; I watch Agon, a ballet by Stravinsky choreographed by George Balanchine. (And, frankly, it’s too conventional for me to vlog about.)
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Contemporary Music 101: The Playlist from An Exposition Not An Exhibition (Ari Benjamin Meyers), Spring Workshop


If you’re genuinely interested in (classical) contemporary music, here’s a playlist which is tantamount to a crash course in “Contemporary Music 101,” so to speak. Besides the durational performances of this “piece,” An Exposition Not An Exhibition by Ari Benjamin Meyers, staged at Spring Workship during Spring 2017, this list from the “exposition” was one of the most invaluable take-aways from the listening/witnessing experience for contemporary music neophyte me. Contemporary music is inscrutable and difficult. At first hearing, it can even be unbearable. But it’s my own experience that listening to it can afford genuine insight into the intellectual underpinnings, meaning and definition of music. Thus, delving into this genre of music is an intellectual investigation rather than an unmediated, bacchanalian experience. Here are the first 25 works in Meyers’ list, retyped for convenient reference, in case you don’t feel like transcribing from the video:
Farewell Symphony, Franz Joseph Haydn
Vexations (1893), Erik Satie
Scherzo (1903/1914), Charles Ives
String Quartet No. 2 (1907-1908), IV, Arnold Schoenberg
Unanswered Question (1908), Charles Ives
Four Pieces, Opus 7 (1910), Anton Webern
Six Bagatelles (1913), Anton Webern
Concertino (1930), George Antheil
Density 21.5 (1936), Edgar Varese
Variations (1936), Anton Webern
Living Room Music (1940), John Cage
Quartet for the End of Time (1941), Oliver Messiaen
Duo (1942), Roger Sessions
Dream (1948), John Cage
In a Landscape (1948), John Cage
Sonata (1948-1953), Gyorgy Ligeti
Quartet in Four Parts (1950), John Cage
4’33” (1952), John Cage
Sonata (1955), George Crumb
Sequenza (1958), Luciana Berio
Variations I (1958), John Cage
Variations II (1961), John Cage
Variations III (1962), John Cage
Mei (1962), Kazuo Fukushima
Variations IV (1963), John Cage
Ko-Lho (1966), Giacinto Scelsi
Violin Phase (1967), Steve Reich
Manto I (1967), Giacinto Scelsi
Chambers (1968), Alvin Lucier
Triple Quartet (1968), Steve Reich
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