A cheap painting is usually more
oppressive than an exorbitant one.

Bailey Sheehan

“When the critic chooses to become a smuggler, a hack, a cook, or an artist,” Kelsey said at a 2007 conference at the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main, “it’s maybe because criticism as such remains tied to an outmoded social relation.” It is precisely this relation that Kelsey intends to not only critique but also to surpass. In this way, Kelsey’s “Rich Texts” play the double role of explaining the art world and actively participating in it; they close the distance between the work of art and how we talk about it.”

Lutz Bacher ‘Accidental Tourist’
Greene Naftali Garage (2016)

Daniel Birnbaum and Isabelle Graw
(Speaking on the writing of John Kelsey)

How much of the artwork is often obstructed by it’s own persisting actuality.

“Even today we hear from many curators that they are working toward a single objective, that of making individual artworks appear in the most favorable light. Or to put it differently, the best curating is nil-curating, non-curating. From this perspective, the solution seems to be to leave the artwork alone, enabling the viewer to confront it directly.”

Boris Groys ‘On the Curatorship’

Christine Wang
‘Don’t Be Such a Martyr’ (Detail).

In that same essay, Boris Groys theorizes that, the general public seeks (sought) validation for an artwork’s value from the art market, to which they believe is a mechanism which decontextualizes, ‘uncurates’, and singles out individual artworks.

Curtis Talwst Santiago recently exhibited a solo exhibition of his work entitled ‘Market Value’ at Lord Ludd. His work is mostly made up of what he and others refer to as miniature histories. I am interested if anyone will write of his work as it is shown here in Philadelphia, and- if it will be at all similar to the way it has been written about before. Curator Magdalyn Asimakis penned in coordination with a curated exhibition of Talwst’s work that ‘The works included in the exhibition ‘Talwst Outside’ meditate on the individual’s relationship to their environment, and suggest correlations between current socio-political events, the human condition, and their origins in the natural world.

“Talwst’s tiny-scaled works interrogate institutionalized racism—police brutality, particularly—and foster hope for a social-political revolution. As with Lewis, Talwst’s works are charged with irony. Though he depicts miniature sculptures of men in jewelry boxes, they are not meager in design.”

(Brooklynrail.org / Alexandra Fowle)

“Talwst’s jewelry boxes encouraged the viewer to hold contemporary memories of racial violence close.”

(Artcritical.com / Mira Dayal)

John Kelsey,
Rich Texts (Book Spread)

Not so similarly, LA painter Christine Wang was quoted this year by the New York Times in an article entitled ‘Artists Grapple with America’s Prison System’ as saying “My paintings can’t vote.” A clear contrast to the overarching tone of an otherwise hopeful essay, she added that her paintings for the most part deal with her feelings of guilt over her privilege as an artist. This is why alongside her artistic practice, Wang has worked for four years as a volunteer organizer against the expansion of jails and prisons in California.

Objects are so often thought to be first symptomatic, and participatory only insofar as they provide an audience with an index of representation. This object, is believed to hold value intrinsic to its being, that is to be felt or excavated by a viewer upon encounter and is possibly first reified, by the often submissive words of a curator or art writer. who regardless of whether they choose to praise or criticize, make it a mission to avoid perversion of that object, or total iconoclastic destruction. Representation of intrinsic value that is to be representative, is a central paradox of commodity fetishism. What I would like to argue, is that intrinsic value, and the expectation of an eventual understanding and democratic distributing of that understanding (even in partiality) may not ever coexist. A gap between object and representation is always inevitable, but, and this is important- we should allow an artwork to be embarrassed by that which is extrinsic to it.

Christopher K. Ho
I Endorse Patriarchy (2016)

Something that has recently renewed my suspicion of the metaphor, of the abstraction of the intrinsic to meet the demand for distribution, is “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor,’ by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang. They write, that, “…The metaphorization of decolonization makes possible a set of evasions, or “settler moves to innocence”, that problematically attempt to reconcile settler guilt and complicity, and rescue settler futurity.” They almost immediately after quote “The Wretched of the Earth” by Franz Fanon:

“Let us admit it, the settler knows perfectly well that no phraseology can be a substitute for reality.”

Similarly, Curator Jonathan D. Katz, who co-curated an exhibition entitled Art AIDS America, which was exhibited at the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington, wrote that his show “…Fundamentally argues that when AIDS was first in evidence in the American art world, there was a kind of orthodoxy governing contemporary art; it was considered anti-authorial and anti-expressive—Postmodernism ruled the roost… Ideas like ’death of the author’ were sustainable until artists started to actually die.”

The previously mentioned ponderings of Tawlst’s work are each a totally impressive, imaginative and poetic pondering— be it they are each consistently a pondering of an idea, a simultaneous rejection of objecthood, or, of reality. To say that any artwork may “encourage the viewer to hold contemporary memories of racial violence close,” or “interrogate institutionalized racism—police brutality, particularly— and foster hope for a social-political revolution,” sentiment aside, seems like an ‘empty promise’. I believe it does a better job of evidencing the hegemony of subjective-interpretation. And, say even if those writers worked frantically to remain true to a more realistic understanding of what the work is accomplishing in actuality, it would still be an understanding where what is then realized (either individually or collectively) would remain outside of what the object is in reality. And that realization should not be thought to then exist harmlessly in the realm of the imaginary, what I would argue is that it would then pose the possibility to produce affect of it’s own. I am not arguing for writers or curators to implement more regimented attempts at seamless representation of the real, what I am arguing for is an awareness that when one attempts relation with another thing, they only succeed in the inadvertent production of a new thing.

Marcel Broodthaers,
Installation view Fridericianum;
Foreground: L’Entrée de
l’Exposition, 1974

“In short, subject-language involves the logic of shibboleth, of a difference which is visible only from within. This, however, in no way means that a given subject-language involves another, “deeper” reference to a hidden, true referent; it is rather that subject-language “derails” or “unsettles” the standard use of language on the basis of its established meanings and leaves the reference “empty,” but with a “wager” that this Void will be filled when the Goal is reached, that is, when Truth actualizes itself as a new situation (the reign of God on Earth, the emancipated society, etc.). The denomination of the Truth-Event is thus “empty” precisely insofar as it refers to the “fullness” yet to come.”

Chance the Rapper
‘How Great is Our God’.

So the initial casting off of the curator or critic, was so that the relatively ‘recent’ autonomy of art could be saved by a market that had never existed for art before. Now, the larger public seems to be tired of a dependence on the market— what I have noticed, is that a community (namely an art community) will often even express pride in an art scene that survives despite having little to no extrinsic pressure (from fairs, dealers, collectors, museums). Not long ago, one of the first galleries on West Franklin street in Baltimore was called Sophia Jacob (known to be a pun of the canonical two-name super gallery). The Baltimore art scene has since morphed into an index of rotating pop-up galleries in abandoned/revitalized(?) storefronts, small businesses and rather disgusting warehouses. Still, the way art is curated, discussed and, displayed in Baltimore (and possibly other small community founded art scenes) is endangered by a type of cognitive-dissonance, where there is the belief in the prioritization of intrinsic value (which involves the unadulterated showing of an artwork outside of the perverse and convoluted world of art stars, art theory, post-marxism), while the ideological foundation of that world is still derivative of a means to art showing that extends its lineage to the advent of art existing hand in hand with a market. Intrinsic value is still expected, protected, and dichotomized from that which may homogenize it— except instead of pushing out a curator or writer in order for the artwork to remain unadulterated, now, it’s ‘the market’. It’s sort of like the opposite of the novel Fuck Seth Price as it is described by Tobias Madison, where… “instead of potential for autonomous self-expression, it only finds complete immersion in capital, within which form and content are made to function as variables, determined by nothing other than economic demand”.

This ultimately leads me to believe that an artwork, namely a painting that is NFS, or is being sold for anything less than a grand, is rather oppressive. Such as a two dollar cross that is found on a sidewalk and hung up on its finder’s wall- the belief in the unearthing and eventual sharing of the intrinsic value of a thing seems to often end up being co-opted by larger institutions for free affective labour (think Adrian Piper’s essay ‘The Logic of Modernism’, David Joselit’s essay ‘Material Witness’ in Artforum on the death of Eric Garner, K. Wayne Yang and Eve Tuck’s essay ‘Decolonization is Not a Metaphor’), or is used as a means to personally evade the realization of the way real things implicate real people (think Charles Gaines’s essay ‘Reconsidering Metaphor’, or Jonathan Katz on his own curated exhibition at the Tacoma Art Museum), or is simply put— an obvious abstraction of the real (a lie).

And actually, I have no problem with people saying that God is, great. The expression of an unattainable thing is an articulation that just so happens to also be very attainable, very easy to understand and distribute. It is an act of humiliation rather than one of praise, or uplifting. To say God is great is to demean him, with a sign that is a signifier to some thing that stands within our own understanding, which is contrary to the very foundation of Christian theology itself. This is why: ...the apophatic attitude of early Platonic and even Neo-Platonic theology (Plotinus and Proclus, Plato’s successor) lead Christian theology to use the language of poetry and images for the interpretation of dogmas much more than the language of conventional logic and schematic concepts.

No one buys a Rolex just because he needs a new watch, and similarly, the decision to purchase a work of art is not usually motivated by the need to cover a section of wall above the sofa. Instead, in both cases, the social prestige conferred by the commodity is decisive, in conjunction with aesthetic preferences. But unlike luxury products, works of art have been associated since the eighteenth century with higher values such as truth or epistemological gain, and so they command an intellectual prestige that no consumer product could hope to attain.

Except that a work of art is still in fact a commodity the same as a car, or a rolex, who despite their associations with epistemological gain or truth, are at once embarrassed by the fact that they are bought and sold (the higher the price, the bigger the humiliation).

And so the hegemony of culture is furtive— I believe right now, its only foil is for it to at least be worth a lot of money, or maybe small art communities such as Baltimore or Philadelphia should make it a mission to start searching for a more equitable alternative. I would first leave this responsibility in the hands of the critic of the small art scene, if only so that they may begin to recognize themselves as iconoclasts— not as invisible explainers of the art world, but participators in it— intrinsic value no longer having to be protected, or prioritized.