A Remembrance of the Future
I tend to like artists who are proponents of change. I tend to like art movements when they’re young, less so as they age. I like artists who take what’s considered “art” and turn it upside down. Whether that’s deliberate (i.e., the artist is rejecting what came before) or unintentional (i.e., this is just the way the artist creates) doesn’t matter to me. As a result, I am a big fan of a lot of twentieth-century art and beyond (i.e., modern art).
This wasn’t always the case. There was a point in time where I thought modern art was pointless. I would look at something like Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square or a Jackson Pollock painting, and wonder what idiot considered that art. It was work that a child could do. I couldn’t articulate my frustration in trying to compare the work of someone like Sargent or Vermeer (or more likely at the time, artists like Frazetta, Corben, and Wrightson) to someone like Picasso or Warhol. My brain couldn’t put the two things on the same page.
In college I took a Philosophy of Art course that completely turned my perspective upside down. For one, I think I was finally mature enough to understand modern art, but I was also able to appreciate the effort that went into the art, no matter how simple it looked. As an adult, I have to acknowledge that things that appear simple are often much more complex under closer scrutiny. We spent a semester trying to answer the question “What is art?” We read essay after essay where people also tried to answer that question.
We never did answer it.
My personal opinion is that art is whatever you think it is. For me, it’s become almost as much about the process as it is about the finished product. This is why I enjoy work from people like Damien Hirst, Maurizio Cattelan, and Tracey Emin. Is it art? I think a lot of people would argue “no.” For me, however, the answer is “yes,” and I’m not concerned about your opinion, nor am I interested in trying to change your opinion. I know what I think, and I’m confident in how that works for me. It lets me enjoy a lot of different things and it lets me appreciate everything.
Do I like the art of someone like Jeff Koons? Not particularly, but I completely appreciate what he does. And of course, seeing his work in person is a whole different beast. Much like how Shakespeare is meant more for you to see it performed over reading; modern art is much more arresting in person than it is in a book or a website. I saw an exhibit of work by Tara Donovan and I could have spent hours looking at how she used simple everyday objects like polyester film (think sheets of plastic) or drinking straws to make moving pieces of art.
Recently I watched the “documentary” Exit Through the Gift Shop (nominated for a 2011 Oscar), which is ostensibly about the graffiti artist Banksy but might be about another artist—Thierry Guetta—entirely or could even be an elaborate piece of art hoax documentary. Banksy is a street artist who is very secretive about his identity. He mostly works with stencil artists like Blek le Rat or Shepard Fairey (you might know his work: “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” or the Obama “Hope” poster). Banksy gained notoriety after he “installed’ a piece of his own art at the Tate Modern Museum in London. His work often combines humor with a message (typically anti-war, anti-capitalism, and anti-establishment).
I find Banksy particularly interesting since his work is technically graffiti, it often gets covered up or painted over, thus destroying the art. His work has a sense of impermanence; a sort of temporal stasis, if you will. His work has mostly existed only as photographs or videos, with the work itself getting destroyed. This makes his work almost impossible to collect, so Banksy uses his techniques to create more traditional types of art (framed prints, etc.) or larger 3D objects (e.g., Murdered Phone Booth which was a red British phone booth that had a pickaxe stuck in it and the booth itself was modified so it looked like it slumped against the wall while red paint spilled on the ground). He is clearly aware of how ridiculous this whole process is and even had an elephant painted red and gold as part of an art exhibit in California (i.e., literally the elephant in the room). I like that he doesn’t appear to take his work or his success too seriously.
Clearly Banksy’s work has moved me. His own work has clear lines of inspiration from previous street/graffiti artists, but his popularity and notoriety has surpassed them and in essence transformed art. In return, art has transformed Banksy, so that he’s moving away from his modus operandi of graffiti to something that more closely resembles commercial art. This may have been his objective all along, as he’s moved away from the street art in some ways, where other people in the scene have not.
While not even close to being on the same scale, Electric Velocipede has made its own transformation. From a small one-man show print publication, to a dedicated team of people putting out a solid magazine, to an online publication. We’re still navigating the waters and figuring out what’s next, but the transformations have helped keep things interesting and exciting. We never want the magazine to become stagnant, so we try to keep abreast of what’s going on so that we can be ready for our next move.
This is an interesting issue, and we’re opening it with a piece that’s as powerful and different (and subtle) as past work from Hal Duncan and Jeffrey Ford. New work will be going up on an ongoing basis, and the whole issue will be available as an ebook shortly.
July 24, 2012