Mot du Jour: NEW
CHANGE RULES, circa 1984. Unrelated image donated by Oliver Sanchez.
‘New’ as a notion in art is perhaps inapplicable today. Artists who strive to be original often find themselves locked into an unending quest for that which either simply isn’t possible anymore or was never there in the first place– The Holy Grail of inspiration. And those artists that fleetingly appear to the rest of us to have ‘cracked it’ are quickly stripped of their stars by jealous contentions.
Since modernism opened up the floor to a plethora of expression dying to call itself art we have strived both as a whole society and an exclusive community for ‘the new.’ From early experiments with technique, medium and form we have pushed hand-in-hand to further the conversation of art and make names for ourselves. The question is: Have we stretched our limits beyond all hope of elasticity or does the next frontier lay just over the horizon?
Today we take two Miami based artists, impress upon them the novelty of innovation and wind them up with the idea that maybe there is still time for them to make the first mark or perhaps some undiscovered cleft of cultural intrigue yet to be exploited.
I have heard people say that John Currin is a rehasher…
He is a revisionist.
…like he’s not doing anything new. And I’ve heard other artists, famous artists, saying he’s not doing anything new. I don’t know if they’re jealous or what!
But neither was Velasquez, neither was a lot of artists. The thing that was new to those artists was their technique…
DiegoVelázquez, Venus mit Spiegel (Rokeby Venus), 1644-1648, Oil on canvas, 48 x 70 inches.
Which did eventually become something new.
It did become something new but the problem with John Currin is that he doesn’t really own a lot of the things that he rehashes, like his ownership is kind of based on irony and that’s just not a very interesting approach for me. Like I don’t trust that he’s really invested in his art. Like his drawing is ironic, his stylization is ironic, his subject matter is ironic.
But that’s a different question and I think that’s just because you like sincere art.
I think he does too.
So do you distrust people who are ironic?
I’m ironic; how could I?
I trust them implicitly, despite the fact that there isn’t one shred of irony in my work.
But in art work I’m not really interested in or put too much faith in work that is ironic. A little bit maybe is fine but when your entire premise is “I don’t mean this, ha ha” it boring, unoriginal.
Your entire premise is you really; it’s not just what you are saying. You can’t really avoid your premise and if your premise is to be ironic or to be unoriginal then that’s you and at some point you have to embrace it or your work is going to suck otherwise.
A truly funny person can be ironic with other types of humor, a truly ironic person can’t. They only know irony and because of that they can’t get into anything that they aren’t fully invested in or that their predefined criteria or standards doesn’t accept as ironic.
But most people aren’t purely ironic.
Of course but I feel like John Currin’s work is too purely ironic.
Too purely ironic?
Yes, he’s not really invested in a lot of things you know.
John Currin, The Bra Shop, 1997. Oil on canvas, 48 x 38 inches.
I kind of get what youre saying. Its like if a band says “OK, im going to make this Tropicana sounding song, oh it works, oh cool, its mine.” But you don’t have so much invested in this Tropicana sound. And if it doesn’t work you can just say “ah, I was being ironic” or “you like it? Coooool” But it doesn’t really matter if you’re interested in any particular genre. It’s more to do with the expression of a particular ontological perspective. You might not have something particular to say within the art but the fact that the art exists will cause an effect, which is why you are creating it.
Irony is certainly one aspect of any process that’s been stretched out over 30,000 years.
But if youre taking the piss with your art then you are meaning something. Your art isn’t limited to what you’re taking the piss with or the significance of the objects that make up your gesture; it’s just the gesture.
But I also feel like it limits him. As an ontological thing he is not seeing into the future, he is stuck in the line.
Yeah, but some people don’t think that way. Some people think that when he added huge ass tits to a lady that it’s new. They think it’s new and innovative the way he takes his palette knife and slaps it on the tit part or on the blouse or the face and then not on the rest of the painting. And who thinks they can see into the future anyway?
In a sense it is innovative because it’s never been that direct before and in another sense maybe that didn’t matter all along.
Like the way he executed it? Using the palette knife to make this big tit titty sweater.
Like maybe the indirectness is more interesting than the irony of being that direct. Maybe it’s OK to be interested in big boobs but in a way that’s tasteful also.
Left: Gustave Courbet, L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World), 1866. Oil on canvas, 18” x 22”. Right: John Currin, Purple Bra, 2006.
Its weird, he did this Courbet, these Courbet lookalikes.
Yeah I saw them but the difference between Courbet and John Currin is that Courbet can actually be erotic and John Currin never is. Take porn for instance. You don’t question the honesty of porn, but if porn was done ironically maybe, like in a sense how john Currin does porn then you’re like “I know I’m not supposed to look at it this way, I am supposed to act as though I am not really aroused.”
Left: John Currin, Kissers, 2006. Oil on canvas, 23 x 25 inches. Right: Some Danish porn that Currin ripped off.
But when you get good porn you do question the honesty of it. Its like “is this actually real?” “It can’t be!” Its so intense!
But you honestly know that it’s meant to be erotic though, that’s what I am talking about. Its not meant to question…
But believe me, I’m not that big of a John Currin fan but is that a big enough idea, you know to say “He’s questioning that?” Is that OK, is that valid?
I think its boring after a while.
And that would be the next question.
Which leads me as an artist to fall back on his technique as a crutch. And even technically, and I know everyone thinks he has a wonderful technique but honestly, it’s really fucking basic.
Yeah, no, it’s nothing that great.
Left: John Currin, The Dane, 2006. Oil on canvas, 48 x 32 inches. Right: More “reference”.
Like I can explain to you how he did everything. And if you look at his lines, they’re sloppy, if you look at his edges they’re sloppy. Its almost as if he understands painting in a very superficial and technical way. He doesn’t have the poetic edge to take it any further than that.
Well that’s the emotional side.
It’s like having someone play the piano for you just very dryly and technically and then somebody plays the same song and really plays from their fucking heart, puts their soul into it.
It’s very different. Not that so many people come to play for me, at least these days.
I bought a John Currin book just to have it as a reference of almost what no to do. And a friend of mine came and gave me a studio visit recently and saw the portraits I have been working on and said “Ah, this is kind of John Currin-ish” and I was like, I don’t think it is, I am not being ironic with this.
Actually that reminds me of the penis painting. You did this famous penis painting at college that had this erect kind of schlong coming off the bottom of the painting.
John Currin was the reason I stopped painting the figure. I went to that show at Luhring Augustine when they were in Soho and almost over night stopped painting representationally. I was like “I hate this, this is not ironic, this is hipster bullshit and I don’t really care for it”. When I was doing that kind of stuff I almost wanted it to be ironic for somebody; either a gay dude or a woman, like I honestly wanted it to be that way.
Well it had that winking eye!
Yeah, it came off as creepy as hell and that was part of the intention of having a male wanting to communicate a different type of sexuality that’s maybe not yet assigned to that gender or masculinity. But when I saw John Currin I said to myself this is art that’s about sex that’s not sexy and therefore not about sex, in reality.
It’s about normal Rockwell.
That’s one thing. Even that is kind of authentic. I like what he did, I think he did it nice, he’s a straight illustrator. I even like Andrew Wyeth.
Andrew Wyeth. Barracoon, 1976. Tempera, 17 ¼ x 33 ¾ inches
But also you’re not ashamed when you look at a John Currin.
The thing is with me I might have had it maybe in college but now I don’t have any pride about what I like, I don’t fucking care, if I look at a fucking thing in the mall and I like it, I don’t care.
Well, if you like it you like it but when I look at a John Currin in a gallery setting or wherever you might find one, I don’t feel embarrassed by looking at it but if I look at a Balthus of a little girl spread eagle in a museum setting then it kind of weirds me out a little bit, like its kind of strange that I am looking at this in public.
Balthus (1908-2001), Thérèse rêvant (Therese Dreaming), 1938. Oil on canvas, 150.5 x 130.2 cm.
I love Balthus. And I know you do too. You see now Balthus is someone who is honestly invested in his subject matter. It might be a fucked up subject matter, all these pre pubescent girls with their skirts up but he’s honestly invested in it.
He is. This is definitely on the menu for Balthus.
And if you’re not going to be serious then why bother being an artist.
Because some people maybe just want to make work…
I don’t know, anytime you’re taking up space in the art world you’d better have something to say.
But the minimalists didn’t really have too much to say; in fact it was the opposite wasn’t it?
Maybe later but the earlier ones certainly had something.
Rothko is amazing.
Sure, and a lot of it is bullshit but when you look closely at what they’re saying about materials, how something becomes art. I mean I am not saying that there weren’t a lot of crappy minimalists because they were but…
I think its also a cultural thing. I mean look at Asian art. A lot of people could never tell me why going to the MET and seeing pottery from a certain dynasty is like anything to them; they’re like “what the fuck do I care, that looks like my china” you know? Like they have absolutely no appreciation for what they are looking at. And that really pisses me off. But I feel with minimalism that maybe it was refined to such a level of subtlety, maybe not through virtuosity at the kiln or something like that but rather a virtuosity of taste and understanding of materials.
It is true, I agree with that. I’ve went to a Sol LeWitt show once I think at Pace Wildenstein in Chelsea a bunch of years ago and when I came out I was looking at the brick in the wall of the building and I was thinking “damn, this brick is amazing.” It really got me looking at everything to this point of heightened sensitivity, it was a cool experience.
I also feel like minimalism is very didactic, it helps you to understand the beginning and the end of a line.
I know, and I appreciate that but at the end of the day as much as we can debate all of this, whether you like it or you don’t like it we both know you’ve just got to do it. And whether it’s new or not or old or not you can still not be closed and say I know what I know and I know what I like cause that’s when you miss stuff.
And that’s doesn’t mean that you cant still make judgments but ultimately, all the stuff we’re talking about, so long as you’re not totally closed minded.
And even then if you want to be that way then fine, you’re just going to miss out on a load of cool experiences. You’ve got to be like “Yeah, I like this, cool, you know, go for it” but with a greater understanding of the fact that all you know is Thomas Kincaid or something. Which again I could look at what he does and say it works for what it does, it’s nostalgic.
Thomas Kinkade, Hometown Lake. 16 x 20 inches. Classic Canvas Edition
So what were saying is you know what you like and you make it. But in knowing that its important that you don’t move so fast that you miss the possibility to explore your surroundings should any appeal to your established preferences. So “I know what I like” is grounded in “But I am susceptible to new things and change so that I can find out more.”
To sit in your corner and say you don’t like something before you’ve seen it isn’t unethical, it just means that you won’t be offered as many experiences or as many chances to grow as the person who opens themselves to new stuff [.]