2.21.2009

an approach to resistance.

Jannis Kounellis, a remainder from the Italian Arte Povera movement who has continued to reimagine himself and conceive of especial works for the time in which he lives, wrote a declaration/manifesto in 1982. Here is some of it:



I am against the world of Andy Warhol and of the epigoni of today. I want to restore the climate experienced by the Cubists.
I am against the condition of paralyzation to which the post war has reduced us: by contrast, I search among fragments (emotional and formal) for the scatterings of history.
I search dramatically for unity, although it is unattainable, although it is Utopian, although it is impossible and, for all these reasons, dramatic.
I am against the aesthetics of catastrophe, I am in favour of happiness, I search for the world of which our vigorous and arrogant 19th-century forebears left us examples of revolutionary form and content.
I am an admirer of Pollock, for his dramatic and impassioned search for identity.
I am an expert traveler, I know all the tortuous routes of my land of Europe, the mountain paths and the big cities with their passionate stories and gossip.
I like pyramids of Egypt, I like Caravaggio, I like Van Gogh, I like the Parthenon, I like Rembrandt, I like Kandinsky, I like Klimt, I like Goya, I like the impetus of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, I like medieval churches, I like the character of Ophelia as Shakespeare describes her and I honor the dead, thinking of myself that I am a modern artist.




Jannis Kounellis' 1988 work Stenza Titolo.




What interests me here is the establishment of contexts- resistant and affirmative positions in relationship to art history, culture, and solid effects resulting from world events like the World Wars. I wonder if there is a contemporary spirit of resistance, a useful one in continuing discourse rather than arming stubborn enclaves of singular aesthetic dispositions to discredit other approaches to object making.





A couple of years ago, a fairly optimistic outlook for looking at art dawned on me. Almost mantric, I would repeat to myself during art-viewing experiences:
There's something in everything. This profession of substance (and the implication that substance is important, to be appreciated and valued unto itself) proved useful in opening me up to a wider landscape of aesthetic surprises. Maybe this idea spun off of a problematic, haunting concept that the painter
Agnes Martin presented in her writings: Everything is joy. I was too young when I first read this idea and was resistant to allowing awful world events- child prostitution, useless wars, mediocre art- to be emulsified in this inclusive, unifying principle. I can say, in a limited way that I could expound on some other time, that I "get it" now.











The risk, of course, is moving to the far extreme: completely tolerant, permissable, and accepting of all creative attempts. And on some level, sure. The creative impulse should be fostered and encouraged as a basic humanizing act. With some relationship to bearing offspring, making art makes us more of us. It has the ability to enrich our experience, articulate our perceptions, and deepen/broaden the potential for discourse (for an exchange of ideas that can be refined and proliferated as proves useful).


Is this an issue of Quality? If so, then I want to recommend Dave Hickey's now regular column in
Art in America for follow up reading. As his witty, remarkable contribution to art thought has often been in the past, I've found his reflections in these pieces to function as both anchor and compass as we continue to map and decide upon the place(s) art occupies in contemporary life. So far, since becoming a regular contributor to Art in America, his considerations have continued to place art into various value systems, asking how it abuts luxury, religion, the economy, and pop culture. It is absolutely worth keeping up on.


Am I assisting a disservice of the notion of quality by opening the gates wide and permitting anything to occur? I don't think I am, because, ideals aside, there are artistic endeavors that don't excite me, don't stay with me. That initially inclusive take on every person having the right to employ artistic and creative practices to research their sense or reality and express their relationship to their environment(s) is really only a starting point to how any of us
actually think about art. At least that is true of me. I have predjudices and aversions and am no doubt propelled through my aesthetic encounters with more bias than I even realize about myself.


What is there to resist now? This may be the driving question for my pause of reflection. I am excited by Kounellis' absolute placement of himself. His thrust for specificity probably over simplifies the aggregate of references he sets himself among, but intellectual caution be damned at times. That's the stuff manifestos are made of, yeah? Bash about. Over state your point. Simply "like" something or someone or their art and basically refuse to explain why. How audacious. I don't know if I could ever do that comfortably.


I am not sure that the assertion or jutxapositon of any ideology automatically compels offense as much as curiosity in me. With pluralism steady at the helm, all kinds of cross-disciplinary and cross-ideological experimentaion is occuring, sometimes to creative end. When I consider Kounellis' position, I can see potential dialogue, say, between Warhol, who he condemns, and the Parthenon. Or, say, Warhol's Jackie paintings, and Shakespeare's description of Ophelia. (It should be noted that these screenprint paintings of Jackie Kennedy that Warhol made on various hues of light blue are a fairly constant point of reference for me. You may be surprised or irritated by how I can work them into a conversation.)




While I'm nonetheless impressed by Kounellis' assertions, I remain dubious of what such a declaration would look like nowadays and how it would operate.



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