Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Robert Storr: Trapped in a Modernist Box

Throngs gathered on January 10 to hear Robert Storr, Dean of Yale Art School, last curator of the Venice Biennial, former curator of the Museum of Modern Art, speak at Kane Hall on the campus of the University of Washington.
He was talking about Kim Jones, whose work is on exhibition at the Henry Art Gallery until January 27. We heard only a little about Kim Jones though. We learned that he is "the only artist for whom war exists as a subject and an issue" according to Storr. That is the only artist in the "top ten" artists in Artforum. The clarification is necessary, because it tells you what perspective Storr comes from. He was speaking more about the "art scene" in New York and its obsession with prices and status, a topic which we in Seattle do not obsess about too much for a lot of reasons. It was helpful to us to be reminded of just how empty the "art scene" is though. Storr established himself as a man who is still embedded in the past by suggesting that the only other artists who currently address war are Raymond Pettibone and Jenny Holzer!

He owned up to painting abstract minimalist art himself. He quickly declared that Kim Jones, although he is the ONLY artist addressing war, was "not a political artist, he had nothing to preach, nothing to rebut". These are very tired knee jerk disclaimers from modernists who fear above all else that artists might actually try to say something about the world.

And of course, to declare that Jones is the ONLY artist addressing war is completely absurd. His work is based, apparently, on the fact that during Vietnam, soldiers electrocuted rats, so he does a lot of rats. A type of PTSD played out with rats. His public performances "violate the code of good conduct on the street" according to Storr, although in the slide he showed no one was even noticing Jones in the New York subway, where there is, as far as I recall, NO code of good conduct.

Storr declared that Jones did a type of "war drawing" of mutual destruction, without actually explaining the game. The destruction is that he ERASES the drawing. Have we heard this somewhere before?
Could it be the famous erasure of the 1950s? The modernist narrative is that Rauschenberg erased a drawing by De Kooning in 1953 as a gesture of succession to the next generation of artists that rejected abstraction.

When Storr was asked if, given the need for artists to engage the world he was encouraging students to study Middle East history or other topics like that, he declared, yes of course, one elective is required at Yale.
ONE elective, no wonder the most promoted art in New York is so often self referential and vacuous.

According to Storr, Jones is "theatricalizing genuine alienation." Well that sounds good, but if you parse those words they date back awhile. It is pure modernist argot. And individual artistic alienation is not the point today.

It is the US that is alienated today not the artist. The US is alienated from its stated principles, its supposed morals.

The day after Storr spoke, a demonstration addressed SIX YEARS of the illegal base at GUANTANAMO holding prisoners with no charges, no due process, no way of getting out. Amnesty International and World Can't Wait called for its closure, as well as all sites of torture worldwide. There was a public performance that "violated the code of good conduct in the street" because it re enacted water boarding, the form of torture that involves simulated drowning by strapping a prisoner to a board and putting his head in a soaked towel ( see entry on Selma Waldman). We use it regularly on prisoners ( and have for many years trained others to practice it, dating back to Chile in the 1970s) .

Perhaps it would cheer up Robert Storr, who seemed to regret the emphasis on money and status in New York, to know that there are plenty of artists who discard their training to be greedy status seeking capitalists. They are choosing to speak about what is going on in the world. In fact, as an old modernist would say, "the good artists" are doing just that.

1 comment:

Skip Rohde said...

Good job deflating the balloon of the New York art world. Guys like Storr are the reason a lot of us, who are doing artwork based on politics and war, get ignored. There are a lot of artists outside New York who have something important, innovative, and constructive to say. Storr might realize that if he just got down off his high horse. No chance of that happening, unfortunately.