It had all become a wonderfully seamless merger of theory and the art it purported to define. Modernism divided by modernism, became postmodern, became Zombie Formalism. The last remnant of self-consciousness was squeezed out. The image was often produced by machines or was so redundant of past Modernism, any notions of the authority or authenticity of the creator had exited the site of creation. Heidegger’s "monstrous philosophical site", where he crosses out Being (sous rature) bringing an end to ontology or at most establishing a weak ontology, had worked its way into the creative process of contemporary artists. Has Simone Weil’s cyclical trope of history hit the nadir of meaninglessness and instead of bouncing in another direction became an intensification of itself?This aesthetic nothing is not totally nothing as the market gives it significant monetary value. The correlation between such art and an economy built on zero interest rates was hard to ignore. Calculating bankers needed to launder some of their gains from the phony stock market into Culture, but the avant-garde instead of providing the usual opportunity for the bankers to slum or dabble with artists besotted of Freud or Jung was now populated by artists as savvy in their business acumen as the bankers themselves. The artists just printed more paintings on their inkjet printers to be bought up by the stockbrokers who had gotten rich on the Federal Reserve's money printing. The dialectic of history provided no zigzag, no way out just more zombification ad infinitum.
This state of affairs was foretold in the early work of Frank Stella. His work was not built out of the cosmic gestures of the Jungian Pollock or the labor of the working class of de Kooning but out of color aid packs and bad geometry. Whereas Stella felt some remorse over putting painting into such a straight jacket and has spent the rest of his career paying homage to the Italian Baroque, the Zombie Formalists, Guyton, Grotjahn, Morris et. alia look like early Stella. They saw the scission his palette provided from flesh, blood and the inner life as a good ground upon which to build their bloodless zombie edifice. It did not refer back to a lived world but to the artifice of graphic design.
|Jasper Johns by Karsh|
Modernism was the last breath of authoritative self-consciousness grounded in Science, the individual as capable of solid perceptions of the Real. When one reads that Husserl’s eidetic reduction seizes reality as it is captured by the senses, one understands that this is what Rothko did. I was reminded of his spiritual intensity in Paul Rodgers “the Modern Aesthetic” which sees Modernism as an ever-revivified battle against the Prussian state and its reincarnations. For sure the scientific community achieved its goals with a group effort but judging from the mid century portraits of greatness by Yousef Karsh, the consciousness of the truth was a private affair. So here is a definition you can take home: zombie modernism is modernism without the authoritative stance of self-consciousness. There is no one home.
So when I learned that Grotjahn’s wife, Jennifer Guidi was cranking out sentimental paintings swimming in sunset colors and that the same collectors of Zombie art could not get enough of them, I was startled. Is this the long awaited bounce? Is all the sentiment excised from Zombie Formalism coming back to start the new zag to zombies zig? Granted the “zombie stance” if it were a yoga pose would be an impossible pose to hold. It requires a coolness and poise lest even an iota of emotion leaks in. You would have to stop breathing. Grotjahn started to drip a little paint on his geometry but that may have expressed an indifference to any remnant of authority in his work. But it may have been the crack in the dam. Are the images of Guidi ironic? Are these just painterly renditions of Koons.
The truth may lie in a show of Walter Robinson‘s painting curated by Vito Schnabel in Switzerland. Vito is the scion of the Schnabel family, founded by papa Julian. Robinson, the presumed inventor of the label of Zombie Formalism (although I came up with the label several months earlier as Zombie abstraction) and a denizen of New York’s art ghetto whom artist/art critic Charles Giuliano described as a “known grifter and blowhard” in an article in “Berkshire Fine Arts”, has produced a body of work which to my eye purports to be a painterly version of Lichtenstein’s pop oeuvre. An article in Blouin Fine Arts pushes it as the glorification of “appetite” in American culture. I get it: remove the cool veneer of the billboard or the movie poster and replace it with the juicy strokes of Robinson and you reveal the appetitive underbelly of American society. Julian’s work was resurrected as provisional in the new millennium by Raphael Rubinstein from its 80’s identity as neo-expression. Schnabel’s art like Robinson’s always needs some sort of label. The Schnabel label unlike LV won't cut it by itself. Pull off the label and the work looks like shit.
On occasion I come across articles about the New York Federal Reserve’s involvement in money printing or as they call it: quantitative easing. It appears they don’t know what the longterm effect is: they are just winging it. It has created a bubble that is going to burst, that has enriched the 1% at the expense of Main St. I think you could say the same thing about the artistic culture of New York. If Schnabel pere et fils , Walter Robinson and now Jennifer Guidi are what we must bow down to as the culture of choice by New York’s collectors then there is no bounce nor an intensification of nihilism, just an untidy, murky pool of schlock. Is this a bubble ready to burst? Or maybe just a backup of primordial sludge that will give rise to a new art?