Washington Area Conceptual Museum of Art Production
The Conceptual Museum is the result of a synthesis of ideas. Conceptual museums have been formed before largely to avoid dealing with the physicality of art. This conceptual Museum is here for the purpose of artists defining the historical references from their work in connection with the work of other artists and institutions. I will use my own work as an example only because I know it best and I have specific ideas on how that body of work came into existence: the motivations, the philosophical sources, references to other artists work, adopted techniques, etc.
I expect others to have different views of the connections in art. That does not mean that I expect “fictions.” We need a combination of views and objective truth regarding the creation of art. Objective truths: I studied painting 2 semesters my senior year at MICA with Sam Gilliam. Sam & Rockne Krebs invited me into the Johnson Avenue Studio, Washington Workshop Program. At various times I worked for Sam. I assisted him in the installation of a number of his early exhibits of suspended paintings. When I entered his painting class he looked at my work and said that I belonged in a sculpture class. I defended my work as painting and we had a number of discussions regarding painting as 3 dimensional (but not illusionistic.) Sam’s work is important to me. The strength of his work is the use of paint (pigment, color) and materials. His vision with the elements that he chooses to use is central to the issues raised in the DC art circles beginning in the 1960’s. My belief is that art does not occur in a vacuum it occurs when there is interaction between artists, collectors, critics, curators… Documenting that interaction helps Art and supports the idea of artists as part of the human community and not a divinity. It was very instructive for me to see works by Rubens in Munich, Florence and Paris that were very “un-even” in quality. To understand that Rubens was human and not a God.
In the past Museums have been the sole arbiters to place a stamps of respectability and context on Artists work. That will still continue. Each institution and each curator building a reputation on defining the works of artists in a historical framework. I believe that the best institutions will continue to take risks and do that.
I also believe that as an Artist I need to define that context for myself. The Web & Hyperlinks are the best tools that I have to do that. One just needs to learn a few simple things in order to present the context of an artists work. Now that there are VRML browsers a next step can be created where there are conceptual 3-d models of work and space that can be connected with Hyperlinks. I don’t pretend to understand the programming of all this but in the same way that it isn’t necessary for an artist to understand the molecular structure of paint it isn’t necessary to understand the details of programming. It is necessary to understand the program applications and those who understand programming are at some advantage with this medium. I have spent most of my life studying art and while I can’t just fill someone’s head with the knowledge that I have acquired it does give me a depth of understanding about 20th Century Art and particularly the art within the areas that I have lived.
In an Museum exhibition today there is no excuse for a Curator to say we just didn’t have room to include everyone because the computer gives the curator the ability to document the work and the process of selecting that work in the normal process of doing the footwork for an exhibition. It is relatively easy to footnote an exhibit with visual footnotes that would more accurately reflect the nature of the creativity occurring within the Art Community. I have tried in various ways to define how my work is connected to other artists work, how it differs and what I believe are the sources through various visual tools. The visual tools have been less successful than the verbal ones in trying to make those connections. I think that with the Conceptual Museum and using Hyperlinks I can finally explain some of those relationships.
Issues in Art: There is this counterproductive argument that continues regarding art with images & art that doesn’t seem to contain images. Last evening (3/23/96) I had another one of these counterproductive exchanges with another artist. The thing that amazes me each time is that the artist or person attacking rarely has extensive knowledge of the work in question. Last night the reference was Jackson Pollock. If one just looks at enough Pollock one can easily pick out the strongest works: Blue Poles, Lavender Mist…if I can see the changes that are going on in the work I can see something about Pollock’s development as an artist. Pollock’s career was cut short and as a result we can’t know where his art was headed but it was certainly developing. I believe that Greenberg uses Pollock’s work as a step in abstraction expressionism that obliterates the figure. It is my understanding that Pollock’s late work was using the “automatic drawing” method and using images that could be read as figures again.
There are several analogies that I like to use in discussing works that don’t use ‘traditional imagery’ as their subject matter:
1. Last week I invented something I call the ‘lightbulb.’ It is a glass enclosure with a metal base & a filament. When connected to electricity it gives off light.
Will you invest in the EZ Lightbulb?
Almost all of you would say, “I think Thomas Edison already invented the lightbulb.” If I was slick enough I could probably find someone to invest in the EZ Lightbulb but when that person discoveries that Thomas Edison already invented it he might be a little pissed at me.
2. Art is a sensual experience. I can choose to have the experience or I can choose not to. If I go to have dinner at the house of a chef he may prepare some culinary delight that I am not willing to taste. I cannot experience the food without tasting it.
3. Art is a personal experience. It does not require me to agree with all on even some part of the artist’s experience. That experience is the artist’s. Other artists’ experiences provide me with insight about their creative experience and their views of the world. We have a collective view of art & we have individual views of art. The individual views of art and more specifically the ‘odd works’ that show an artist’s shifting & experiencing the world in a new way is what interests me. It is theoretically possible for each person to be a ‘great artist.’ (I don’t mean in the way that Andy Warhol cynically speaks of each person having 15 minutes of fame.) If each person could make an authentic model of their view of their realities we would have lots of strong art. Weak art is the second, third, fourth…time around of recreating someone else’s reality.
My own art is just a half a bubble out of plumb! It is eccentric in its use of imagery. According to Nesta Dorrance, Marc Moyens once looked at a work (Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, Eiler Collection) of mine and said that it was so vulgar that it should be removed from the gallery. Sometimes I do use imagery that the viewer can recognize and one of the reasons for that is to allow viewers who cannot look at ‘non-objective’ images access to the work. I want the work to operate on many levels.
This would be my argument for the weakness of Minimalism. “Minimalism is only what it appears to be and nothing more. Minimalism is non-referential.” I don’t believe that is possible. I believe that art always has references. Judd may claim that his work is non-referential but my hypothesis is that if we had a way of tapping into his brain we would find some connection between his work and his observations of the world he experiences. Judd may say that isn’t important. Judd, Morris, Levine, Truitt…have made some powerful work. A minimalist painter like Newman does a group of paintings called, “the stations of the cross.” No matter what someone thinks of the work can we say that it is non-referential? Gene Davis does a painting called “Satan’s Flag.” Most of his paintings have stripes of color. This painting is black and white stripes. Even the painting of a black and white work when the main body of his work is color evokes implied associations. Add the title “Satan’s Flag” and I don’t see how I can ignore the implications and associations.
Frank Stella’s work moves from a rather rigid minimalism to what appears to be a “baroque abstract expressionism.” Wonderfully playful works with evoked associations. I reached a point in my own work where it seemed like my identity was being compressed out of the work. Van Gogh’s work seems to gradually compress the space out of the painting. Until there is no room to breath. Sometimes our work points in a direction that we can only pursue so far for simple survival.
When I visit a museum or gallery for the first time I always hope to learn something new about the work. Sometimes that new thing is exclusively my own interaction with the work. There are times when directors & curators provide a road to new discoveries and I always appreciate that.
I am really not interested in cubism by someone who begins to paint as a cubist in 1980. That is not to say that as artists we can’t and don’t use information, techniques and references to such a movement in our work.
The focus here is “fine art.” There are a number of topics I have tried to search on the “Web” and found very little direct information. The materials are out there if one is acquainted with 20th Century Art. I start from the 1960’s, the period of Art that I am acquainted with in Washington DC and work out from there. In the near future I will begin to start from my early work and little by little go through the history of my own work. Anyone who has additional information to contribute or links to add please contact me. I would be interested particularly in other artists with a fine arts background who are adding to the dialogue through CyberSpace.