Posts Tagged ‘kitsch’

Sure, you can swoon over what you like and when you don’t like something you can say, “My five-year-old can do that.” But to get a good mental work-out, ask, ”What qualities got this painting in the show? Why did they hang this next to that? How do these things relate to one another? What kind of mind am I entering here?” If it’s a group show, ask “How did the juror(s) pick these pieces out of the hundreds that were submitted?”
The Evanston Art Center Biennial closes this Sunday. Just a couple of days left. Go and practice asking critical questions.
In the large gallery, you’ll see that the space is dominated by a sculpture that consists of straight elements. When you look at the framed pieces on the walls circling this sculpture, you can immediately see 2014EACbiennial!that these pieces, though by different artists, echo the linear quality of the sculpture. This doesn’t happen by accident. The jurors wanted to create a harmonious space and used the sculpture as the determining element, on the basis of which they chose the paintings.
When you turn towards the entrance of the gallery, you’ll notice that the art work becomes curvilinear, round, and painterly. This progression was installed on purpose. You can then ask yourself, ”You mean, the jurors didn’t select the best work submitted, but rather chose pieces that would conform to their design of the gallery space?”
As you leave the gallery you walk across a little lobby and then you face a huge painting of a seated figure.

2014EACbiennial3The paint glows. Most of the surface is deep black. Could it be? No, not painting on velvet! Yes, indeed, this is a painting on black velvet. You recall that “painting on black velvet” is synonymous with “Kitsch” and you recall seeing matadors, Spanish dancers and sentimentalized old beggars in the interior decorating section of Woolworth’s, oh, decades ago. But here? At the Evanston Art Center Biennial? Is this a joke? We can’t be sure, but the contrast to the rectilinear constructivism in the other room is striking. It has to be deliberate. So, what relates the straight lined assemblage of brown cardboard to this painting on black velvet?
Wit, possibly. There’s something witty about the cardboard towers in themselves, because, well, they will disintegrate. First, the cardboard will absorb moisture, then it will bend and collapse into a pile. It’s part of the aesthetic of decay, of which we’re seeing a lot in our apocalyptic age. Certainly, there’s no grandeur here, not even seriousness. Maybe that’s what the jurors saw in the painting on velvet, too: a pretense of serious thought, but only a pretense. Constructing towers out of cardboard—how vain. Painting on velvet, ditto. Both are melodramatic and pathetic. If you resist seeing humor in this show, look at the feet in the painting on velvet. Laughter in galleries is allowed.
We’re not in Renaissance Rome any more, Toto. Making fun of grandeur is good for us.
(The jurors for this exhibit were Allison Peters Quinn and Sergio Gomez.)
To read about painting on velvet: http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/velvet-underdogs-in-praise-of-the-paintings-the-art-world-loves-to-hate/
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

It was about 4 o’clock and the light favored Glenview Road. I was waiting on the side street, having just pulled out of the library’s parking lot.  I went over the to-do list for that evening in my head: emails, phone calls, drawings to finish,  a blog to write, what to do for dinner, you know, the usual stuff.  Here I was, stuck in traffic and who enjoys waiting for a light to turn green!  Well, actually, for me, it’s often a welcome moment.   It was a long light. Going over the chores list once is enough.  After that, I switch into visual.  I looked around.  There was something eerie about this late afternoon lighting. All I noticed at first was the low hanging thick gray cloud cover.  And then, there on my left was the library, with the peaks of the roof line illuminated in the rapidly setting sun.  Since this was not a bright sunny day at all and the ominous, leaden sky gave no hint of a sun anywhere, the peaks of the gabled roof line appeared to be glowing from within. I rolled down the window and fumbled for my camera.  I took just one frame.  The light changed on Glenview Road and I turned into the intersection.

I feared the worst for this shot:  It was just too dramatic.  When things seem to be glowing from within, you’re on thin ice.  The figures of Rembrandt and Caravaggio often come at us out of tarry, pessimistic blackness and they shine like lanterns. But for the epigoni, depicting figures that glow with an inner fire leads inevitable to preachy kitsch.

What saves this photo from the glowing ash heap of kitsch, I think, is the severity of the composition.  Saved by zig-zagging triangles!  Notice that the shrub in the lower right corner gives us a triangle standing on a point that is outside the frame.  Notice also, that the zig-zags go down from left to right and the illuminated peaks work in counterpoint, by going up.  Counterpoint pulls you from the brink of kitsch, any day.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.




Read Full Post »