ugh. series. huh.

"The artist makes what we might call a batch: using the same recipe, but making each work distinct enough so that each collector can have his own slightly different but still recognizable example." 

-Philip Fisher in Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences. In a section on ‘The Newness Effect in Modern Art’

I don't work in a series. When I interviewed Tara Donovan for this article, I was surprised that she did say that she worked in series. I couldn't exactly see how this is true, even though her process has a methodology or formula for deconstructing the physical properties of a material and to exploit its extreme positions. So I left it out of the stories and have continued to worry about it. 

And while I have chosen to avoid the "batch" as Fisher calls what most of us might call a series, I am not sure my reasons coincide with what he expresses above. His observation gets sticky. It may empower market more than is due. It expresses a devaluation of the batch as a concept. Sometimes series manage to far exceed the limited expectations issued above. Not all the time. Personally, I feel that a series of artworks runs the risk of becoming a kind of all-over visual static, that looking at any one point in an exhibition results in an experience that is not overtly distinguishable from any other view of the exhibition. 

In particular, I have a concern for many contemporary painters who pay attention only to what happens within the parameters of a number of paintings, leaving the real experience of space, light, proximity, and other physical properties of actual experience ill considered, when, clearly, these elements conjoin the paintings, make up the experience of how to get from one object to the next. Series here suggests a sequence of artmaking endeavors, and maybe implies breaks between them rather than a continuous effort to offer a holistic artistic experience to the viewer (or even to themselves as the makers). It is possible that there are legitimate, helpful reasons that art could function that way. I'm strained to think of any, instead wondering that if the goal of the maker of pictures is some kind of psychic transportation, it does so only clumsily.

The batch. I don't think I've ever minded if a batch of cookies or a series of sushi pieces sitting in a roll are overly similar. Some people, when their pets die, try to recreate the conditions of the previous pet's life/existence as closely as possible. When I consider the Team or the Band, it seems that while each participant embodies some specific skills or unique contributions to the Whole, they all basically share a goal, a visionary destination for the potential they brandish together. To that end, maybe there are plenty of examples of batches of art objects produced by an artist that make more good by being variations on a theme. Sometimes parsing through minutia, distinguishing between similar but not same experiences is an important job for those who feel a personal investment in mapping the territory of our visual landscape.

"Artists, especially in recent times, may be trying to distinguish themselves one from another in the effort to attain uniquely autographic styles. This occurs, in effect, if [Tom] Wolfe is right [in his essay The Painted Word], by beginning with a theory of art and then creating artworks to conform to its precepts, rather than allowing art to follow its natural direction and only afterward taking notice and developing a theory of what artists have independently chosen to do." 
-Dale Jacquette, "Intention, Meaning, and Substance in the Phenomenology of Abstract Painting"

A printmaker I am friends with told me a month or so back that she valued contrivance as a tool contemporary art allows for. I am hoping to better understand what she means by this as we talk more, but it does seem adjacent to some of what Jacquette (and Wolfe) seem critical of in their writings. MY SKEPTICISM is that there is almost no such thing as "allowing art to follow its natural direction." Without assuming that content is the driving force for making art objects, there is nonetheless some M.O. for cultivating an art practice where each of us set loose into material explorations of ideas that hold our attention. I doubt there is another way to do it. But then, I doubt "natural," generally.

Do you? And if I'm inviting a conversation here, I might as well ask questions I am interested in hearing the answers to.

How do you get from one isolated painting to the next in exhibitions where the artist presents a series of similar works? How do you interact with the context(s)?

1 comment:

  1. I only have time for a brief comment, but I am thinking about the (not so well curated) show at the Urban Arts Space for Alan Crockett's work. This seems to me a prime example of a "batch," in which the overall effect is one of homogeny. So what draws me around the room in such an exhibition? I suppose it is the same sort of thing that draws me onward in human relationships: minutia. nuance. subtle discrete qualities. the exploration of the uniqueness, and the spaces in between THIS and THAT. Difference and contrast. And when difference and contrast do not readily present themselves, it is the pursuit of them and the potential for a meaningful experience that they (or the pursuit itself) may possess.

    Do I doubt "natural?" I do not doubt nature, but I do view a thing or person's social function in constant negotiation between a myriad of forces, of which its nature is only one. So while I do not doubt a thing's nature, nor is action or function within a theoretical void as "natural," I hesitate to affirm the existence of "natural direction" in very many areas. I think gravity offers some natural directions (especially in my field). Momentum does as well. But as far as a natural direction in any sort of social function, I think I hold serious scrutiny of such a notion.

    And that's all I have time for. Off to a German Village studio for Ann Hamilton and Michael Mercil.



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