Joho the Blog » art

October 13, 2015

Games as art

Naomi Alderman makes a compelling case in The Guardian for looking at video games to find the first examples of digital literature.

Authors of articles don’t get to write their own headlines, and the Guardian’s headline goes too far: Naomi doesn’t claim that games yet have turned out “great works of digital literature.” Her own claim is more modest:

…are there video games experimenting with more interesting storytelling than any “digital literature” project I’ve seen? Yes, certainly. And if you want to think of yourself as well read, or well cultured, you need to engage with them.

I agree. There are many video games I enjoyed but am embarrassed about; these are what we mean by “guilty pleasures.” But the best of them deserve to be taken seriously. “Games are where digital art will emerge. And has emerged.”Games are where digital art will emerge. And has emerged.

I don’t know that we have examples of digital “high art” yet. Perhaps we do and I don’t know about them or don’t appreciate them. Perhaps it’s a silly concept. Or perhaps we won’t think we’re playing a game when we experience it. But it’s likely at least to come out of the rhetorical forms games have already created:

  • It will be a space in which the user dwells, not simply an object or experience unfolding in front of the user.

  • It will be interactive.

  • It will require the user to make choices that affect it in significant ways.

  • It won’t be the same for everyone.

It is a sign of the originality and importance of games that it’s not always clear what to compare them with.

For example, most digital games lend themselves to comparisons with movies. After all, they are composed of sound, flat visuals, and movement. That’s the apt comparison for Portal 2. (Naomi cites Portal, but I think the sequel is a better example.) Portal 2 is loads of fun to play. But it is more than that. The story that unfolds is as clever and well worked out as any movie’s. The characters are broad, yet reveal subtleties. We care about them. Most famously, we care about a particular inanimate cube. The “set design” is stunning. The voice acting is world class, and in fact includes JK Simmons who went on to went a Best Actor Oscar. “…the details are fully imagined, right down to gun turrets that coo.”Perhaps most remarkable is the extent to which the details are fully imagined, right down to gun turrets that coo plaintively. (You can see them rehearsing in this Easter egg.)

Naomi doesn’t mention Bioshock, but I’d count it as a hybrid movie and novella. The premise is original and political. The setting is beautifully done. The science fiction is well-imagined. And the plot contains some meta moments that reflect on its form as a video game. (Those who have played the game will recognize how non-spoilery I’m being :) The third and last in the series, Bioshock Infinite, has a premise, characters, plot, and setting that could make a successful movie, but the movie is unlikely to be as good as the game. For one thing, we get to play the game.

Other games work as reflections on the medium itself, a sign of the forming of an artistic sensibility. Naomi mentions The Stanley Parable and Gone Home. I’d add Spec Ops: The Line and even the Saints Row series. These are all successful, well-known games. All, except the last, can be taken seriously as statements inspired by artistic intentions. (Saints Row is self-aware, bad-taste burlesque.) The ferment in the indie game field is quite spectacular.

If movies can be an art form, then why not digital games? And all this is before virtual reality headsets are common. I have no doubt that digital games as immersive worlds in which users have agency will blow past movies as the locus of popular art. And from this will emerge what we will call serious art as well. We’re already well on our way.

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December 13, 2014

Cézanne’s unfortunate wife

We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for its amazing, bottomless collection, but while we were there we visited the Madame Cézanne exhibit. It’s unsettling and, frankly, repellant.

Please note that I understand that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m the sort of museum-goer who likes the works that he likes. I can’t even predict what is going to touch me, much less make sense of it. Which is, I believe, more or less the opposite of how actual criticism works.

The Met has assembled twenty-four paintings and sketches by Cézanne of his wife Hortense. As compositions some are awesome (he is Cézanne after all), but as portraits they seem technically pretty bad: her face is sometimes unrecognizable from one picture to the next, even ones that were painted within a couple of years of one another.

Madame Cézanne (Hortense Fiquet, 1850–1922) in the Conservator

Hortense Fiquet in a striped skirt

But what does that matter so long as Cézanne has expressed her soul, or his feelings about her, or both? Or, in this case, neither. You stare at those portraits and ask what he loved in her. Or, for that matter, hated in her? Did he feel anything at all about her?

The exhibit’s helpful wall notes explain that in fact there seems to have been little love in their relationship, at least on his part. The NY Times review of the show musters all the sympathy it can for Hortense and is well worth reading for that.

We know little about Madame Cézanne. And we learn little more from these portraits. It is fine to say that Cézanne was interested in shape, form, and light, not personality. But the fact that he had her sit immobile for countless hours so he could paint a still life made of flesh is a problem, especially since Cézanne seems to have loved his peaches and pears more than he loved this woman.

Cézanne: Still life with apples

Here’s a little more eye-bleach for you: a quick Picasso painting of a woman who sleeping is yet more alive than Madame Cézanne as represented in her husband’s careful artistry:

Picasso's Repose


On the far more positive side, we also went to the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit of Matisse’s cut-outs.

Matisse's cut-outs, at MOMA

I’ve always liked Matisse, but have never taken him too seriously because he seems incapable of conveying anything except joy — although a full range of joy, from the sensuous to the spiritual. I’m sure I’m not appreciating him fully, but not matter what, oh my, what a genius of shape and color. I didn’t want to leave.

If you can see this collection, do. So much fun.


March 8, 2014

I enjoy isometric projection. You all know the isometric cube from video games:


An isometric cube’s lines are all the same length and shows all three sides equally. It is thus unnatural, assuming that seeing things from a particular perspective is natural.

This makes isometric cubes similar to Egyptian paintings, at least as E.H. Gombrich explains them.

ancient egyptian painting

Paintings in the Egyptian style — face in profile, torso turned out towards us, legs apart and in profile — are unrealistic: people don’t stand that way, just as cubes seen from a human perspective don’t show themselves the isometric way.

Gombrich talks about Egyptian paintings to make a point: our idea about what’s realistic is more infected with cultural norms than we usually think. The Egyptian stance seemed to them to be realistic because it shows the parts of the human form in the view that conveys the most information, or at least what the Egyptians considered to be the most distinctive view.

And the same is true of isometric cubes.

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October 1, 2013

[berkman] Molly Crabapple on art when images are ubiquitous

I’m at a Berkman lunch where Molly Crabapple [twitter:MollyCrabapple] is giving a talk titled “Art in the Age of the Ubiquitous Image.” Tim Maly introduces Molly as a “hustler,” in the good sense. After Occupy, she “hustled her way” into Gitmo. She and Tim were “Artists are the most lucky little foofoos in the world. We spent a century excusing every drpravity if with ‘But we’re an artist.’ …The best individual

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

She begins by telling us about the only two people who have ever gotten angry at her drawing their picture. First was a religious person in Morocco. She wanted to distinguish herself from the culturally arrogant tourists, so she’d sit on a sidewalk and draw. She made friends, except for one guy who looked at the drawing pad and tore it to pieces. The second was a NYC police officer. She was sitting in a court with Matt Taibbi and watching poor people being shaken down for offenses such as riding a bike on a bicycle. A court officer saw her drawing him and said that anyone looking at him is “asking for trouble.” “Drawing can mock power,” she says.

She says she’s an artist in the old sense: She puts paint on a surface until it looks cool. She also does illustrated journalism. She shows drawings from Zuccotti Park during Occupy. She used her sketchbook to show that people were not in fact “dirty hippies.” She went to Athens to show what life as like with the rise of fascism during the Eurozone crisis. At Guantanamo, she drew happy faces on the guards because you’re not allowed to draw their faces. If she’s censored, she wants to show the censorship.

When she was young, she longed for the days when artists dominated image-making. Before cameras, artists drew whatever needed reproduction. She shows a plate from Goya’s The Disasters of War to show how art can editorialize in a way that photos can’t. Drawings can show the truth of what happened.

Another example from the Paris Commune: a woman guarding a hotel. Otto Dix’s drawing of a veteran with skin grafts shows “only the essential, not the extraneous. Even fashion was the domain of artists before photo. E.g., Kenneth Black’s drawings.

Otto Dix skin graft

But photography has an advantage in that we assume what we see is true. E.g., Goya’s execution painting never actually happened. But now everyone has camera phones, and every is being surveilled. There are more images now than ever before in human history. Where does that leave art?

Goya: Disasters of War

There are two symbols of global rebellion: the Guy Fawkes masks and arms outstretched holding camera phones. When a kid got beaten up, a crowd of peers formed with their camera phones out. “You will become an Internet meme,” they were saying. Camera phones make people accountable. The Net takes every image that has resonance and spits it back out transformed. Officer Pike, who pepper-sprayed protesters at UC Davis, has become an Internet meme.

Pike as meme

The flip side is that the government now can view us unceasingly. Soon the line between what we’re viewing and how they’re viewing us is blurred: the gov’t views us through our phones by which we view our world. Some of the coolest art plays with this. E.g., William Betts does paintings based on CCTV stills.

Williams Betts. Thanks, WB!

But as photography becomes ubiquitous, our faith in its truth is chipping away. E.g., Kerry used a photo of wrapped bodies to justify a strike on Syria, but it was taken in 2002 in Iraq. Photos are not the truth and they never were. And even when photos are indisputable, it’s not enough. Police still get away with murder. The videography is less important than the power structure.

We live in a world where everything is captured, so what’s the point of my drawing things? What possible significance can it be? “Or am I just picking scabs? It’s just my personal compulsion?”

Art has always absorbed new tech: Big canvases during the Renaissance, use of the camera obscura. She shows a drawing of the Golden Dawn fascists being confronted by local shop owners. For the drawing, she took many many photos, they looked online to find more posters, and you end up with a drawing that’s a collage. You never now have trouble figuring out what thnigs look like. “Even that is a gigantic change brought by the Internet.”

 Molly Crabapple Golden Dawn

One of her projects last name was “Shell Game“: taking the Occupy protest and Arab Spring and retelling massive “alter pieces” for them, votives. But when she was drawing them, she wasn’t just drawing what was in her head. She was researching them the way journalists do. She interviewed people. E.g., a Tunisian blogging collective told her that the term “Jasmine REvolution” as “hideous Western branding” and please don’t use it.

Molly Crabapple Shell Game example

She shows a Rembrandt drawing of Haksen the elephant. IT was the first time people had seen it. Now, the image of elephants has become ubiquitous.

Her friend Paul Mason when toOccupy Gezi. He took photos. She drew them, but only after crowdsourcing the translation of signs on Twitter.

Molly Crabapple occupy gez

Guantanamo is simultaneously the most private and the most surveilled. Every cell has a camera checked every 3 mins. Even the location of the cameras is secret; if she drew them, the sketch would be confiscated. She spent 2 wks there on 2 differenttrips. “What became important to me was to draw the censorship.” She wasn’t allowed to draw anyone’s faces, even though their identities are well known. So she had to scratch out the prisoner’s faces. [The face-blocked prisoner drawings are amazing.] She also isn’t allowed to draw anything that would give a sense of the layout of the camp. The Opsec briefing tells you the only three angles you’re allowed to draw from.

Molly Crabapple guantanamo

She shows a drawing from life of the Chelsea Manning verdict.

There are other reasons people might not want to be drawn. She shows a drawing of Syntagma protesters with prominent facial scars, so she drew him holding his logo over his face. She shows a drawing of Maxence Valade who had an eye shot out. He let her draw him.

There are places where there are just no cameras. She was jailed for 11 hours during Occupy. It was incredibly boring. She drew pictures in a styrofoam cup and tried to commit the cell to memory. When released, she drew it.

Joe Sacco has drawn images of Palestinians being interrogated. “Artists can take memories and make them real.”

Access can be taken from us. The Internet can be shut off. They can take your camera phone. But drawing cannot be stopped. E.g., David Choe was in solitary for a while. He had nothing to do but draw. He drew with soy sauce and his own urine.

“The art of drawing something sets it apart.” She shows the official Red Cross photo of Hisham Sliti in Gitmo and then her drawing. “I wanted to set him apart. I want you to remember who he is.”

“We need the chaos of multiplicity. We need raw data. We need everything. But we also need the singular. And that’s what artists do. We need people who can be stealthy and subtle, and can go where photographs cannot.” Visual art has no pretense of objectivity. “Images have power.” An illustrator in Syria had his hands broken. “Images get past fatigue. Images get past the raw edges of your heart.”


Q: You’re comparing image production before the flood of images and now. How about how crowds are pulling from the flood now?

A: Artists are always of their age. I use the Internet as an artist, but also to look for steak in the morning to eat. We dive into the multiplicity, pull out the singular, and then that’s pulled back into the crowd.

Q: The Guy Fawkes mask comes from V for Vendetta. The image is owned by Warner Bros.

A: And there’s also the real Guy Fawkes, a Catholic subversive whose politics none of us would find inspiring. Then there were the folk festivals. Then V for Vendetta, retaking the mask as a symbol of rebellion, but more as a carton symbol. Then you have 4chan and Anonymous bringing it back to its original meaning of rebellion.

Q: How do your images find a way through all of that. You talk about using the network as a repository of possible influence, as an expanded canon of images one might interact with. Once an image is produced, how does it find its life in the world?

When Occupy Wall St. hit, it had no images. I did a vampire squid. It showed up on protest signs. Schlocky t-shirts were selling it. The image had a life. She also did a free Pussy riot poster. A week alter there was an Al Jazeera news piece saying “Some people will make money on anything,” focusing on Russian t-shirt makers making unauthorized copies. Madonna tweeted it, and Time said she made it. Memes show up in burlesque shows. Many bad tattoos based on her art. (“That always hurts and artist.”) “The network eats all.”

Molly Crabapple vampire quid

Q: Do you get criticism from journalists for not being fact-check-able?

A: I work with fact-checkers when facts are involved. When I can’t take photos, I hew as closely to reality as I can. But there’s always an editorial slant to any photo or drawing. E.g., the photo of the Vietnamese police officer executing a suspect has an emotion.

Q: Who are you drawing your political art for?

A: One of my problems with political art is that it draws on the same canon: Soviet, black and red. Very cool. But people know immediately if it’s for them. I want to make art for people who don’t think political aesthetics is for them. Maybe they relate more to fairy tales, or…

Q: Has the nature of cooptation change? What’s the difference between an image being made commercial and an image becoming a meme?

A: In some ways I think it’s cooptation. If someone used my Pussy Riot illustration to advertise their t-shirt shop, with tags like “glam,” yeah, that’s cooptation. Political campaigns do this, as when musicians objected to their songs being used to introduce Sarah Palin. You should fight back against that, but it happens because the world is intensely interconnected.

Q: In the 19th century there was an exhibition of dioramas. The Beehive Collective is doing something similar. Do they understand the diorama? Can we revivify it?

A: The Beehive Collective does this incredibly detailed, gigantic pen and ink drawings of subjects like strip mining, environmental policy, etc. The topics are very complex. They go to the local areas and revise and revise their thing until the locals think it’s a truthful representation. They are telling very complicated stories without depending on language or literacy. It’s an intensely important thing to do.

Beehive Collective

Q: Do you do that consciously with some of your larger displays?

A: Yes. I always try to get beyond language. One of my first jobs was as house artist at a swanky club. That was my lockpick. Art is totally a lockpick.

Q: What’s been most jarring or unexpected for you?

A: Guantanamo is the most bizarre and jarring place I’ve ever been to. It’s a cheerful American town with a Macdonald’s and karaoke bar, next to a super-max prison dedicated to guarding 169 middle age guys most of whom have been cleared. There’s a pantomime of security there. Everything says that you’re about very dangerous people, but it’s a small American town.

Q: So it’s like North Korea.

A: Exactly.

Q: The network mainly displays images at 19″ maximum usually, but you draw much bigger than that.

A: I want to do art that’s really big. It affects you differently. It surrounds you. It’s a dominating relationship. But it doesn’t reproduce on line. Diego Rivera was much more known in his time, but now Frieda Kahlo is. That’s because you have to go to a Rivera to see it in real life, but Kahlo reproduces well on a smaller screen. So, how do you take really really big life and give it a digital life that’s somewhat as interesting as real life is.

Q: Panorama stitchers? Microsoft has one that lets you zoom in or out. E.g., the AIDS quilt. Cf. gigapans.

Q: What does the physicality of the drawing do for you.

A: There’s an egomaniacal bit of artists. When I make a large painting, I feel like I’m falling into them. My next project is going to be a show of large paintings about hackers. I want to do a 20-foot wide painting. It’d be bullshit to do something on the network and not have it be on the network.

There are things you can’t see online. I use zinc white, which is toxic, but it’s super transparent, warm white. It doesn’t reproduce in photos. There’s a lot of art you can’t get from photos or on the Internet. We forget that there are all sorts of things you have to be there to see.

Q: The way that experience gets remediated and ported back out to the Internet, it can underscore that they can’t be reproduced on a mobile device.

Q: There are places you can’t bring cameras onto. E.g., courtrooms.

A: I don’t know what they don’t allow cameras. It seems like a rule from wayback when camera flashes made smoke. I know that with the KSM courtroom, they didn’t want any of their cameras shown, or the doors, or the faces. It would have been impossible to get photos there. I think it’s misguided but I also sort of like it because it allows one place where my people can king.

Q: Do you ever encounter people who area trying to learn to draw so they can get around censorship and share emotions?

A: Prison art. I profiled a Gitmo prisoner who learned to draw for that reason.

Q: Dr. Sketchy?

A: Dr. Sketchy is my alternative drawing class done in a bar with drag queens and models, done in a subversive way. I want people to learn to look without asking for permission. Artists are the creepiest people around [laughter]. Drawing is a way that I was allowed to look, where looking wasn’t taken as an invitation but as something else.

Q: Susan Sontag says that people thought that showing violence would lead to peace, but that images of violence in fact can provoke more violence.

A: That happens when pictures of atrocities can spur revenge. But drawings can also get past people’s defenses. But maybe I’m just being hopeful.

[Great and very special presentation. Thanks, Molly!


September 20, 2013

Gateway Arts

It’s the 40th anniversary of Gateway Arts, a Brookline studio for people with disabilities of all sorts.

The best of the work is just wonderful.

Gateway provides a warm environment for exploration and growth. And you will never find a community that better embodies acceptance than a community of people with a mix of physical and cognitive disabilities, as at Gateway Arts, Zeno Mountain Farm, and Camp Jabberwocky.

I’m very proud that my parents-in-law were honored last night at the Gateway Arts 40th Anniversary event for their loving support of, and persistent advocacy for, my sister-in-law and for all the cognitively disabled and their families.

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May 24, 2013

Japanese art painted with Excel

According to PSFK, which bases the report on an article in the Japaense-language PC Online, for the past ten years Tatsuo Horiuchi has been drawing traditional Japanese prints using Excel spreadsheets.

Here’s a screen capture of what Horiuchi’s work looks like in process:

Why does he do this? Because Excel comes bundled for free with the computers he uses. Yeah, well, so does HTML5 Canvas but that doesn’t mean I’d want to create, say, the Mona Lisa in Javascript.

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January 20, 2013

Manet. Monet. Let’s call the whole thing off.

I was oddly pleased to read yesterday that when Monet first came on the scene, Manet was annoyed that his name was so close.

It didn’t help any that Monet’s first exhibition of works at the Paris Salon, in 1865, was praised by critics, while Manet’s were panned. It must be cold comfort to Manet that Manet’s two reviled works are now considered to be masterpieces. Even colder comfort: everyone still gets their names confused.

I read about Manet’s reaction in Ross King’s excellent The Judgment of Paris about the rise of Impressionism. I’m greatly enjoying it: it’s impressively researched, well-told, and is teaching me a lot about the context within which Impressionism came to be.

And totally tangentially: I went looking for a picture of Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, one of the two Manet paintings at that Salon — the other was Olympia — and came across a post that confidently explains the “anomalies” in the painting.

lunch on the grass - Manet
Thanks, Wikimedia!

The site Every Painter Paints Himself (I guess except for the lady painters) has a brief essay that suggests that the painting looks funny because the bather in the background is actually intended to be a painting in front of which the threesome is posing.

I’m marking this one Interested, But Not Convinced.


November 16, 2012

Noise from Jonathan Spencer

Jonathan Spencer [twitter:JonnyVeeArgh] creates informative visualizations for the BBC (“The Beeb”), but as he takes the train (or as the Brits say, a “lorry”) into work (“lift”), he works on his own videos (“bangers”). Here’s his latest (“the penny dropped”), which is about his continuing theme (“ringo”), noise (“warm beer”):

NOISE V014L H264 from Jonathan Spencer on Vimeo.

Click to go to the Vimeo page that explains the order producing the chaos.

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November 1, 2012

Lazy impressions

I am in London as part of my stitched-together path home in the wake of Sandy, so yesterday afternoon I went for a walk and on a whim decided to duck into the National Gallery. (Free museums are so Open Access!)

I am ashamed that once again I gravitated to the Impressionists. I take it as due to a typical American’s lack of education about art. My taste is so conventional and so lazy. For example, my wife likes Medieval art in part because she knows the backstories of the religious scenes depicted, while I, on the other hand, know a handful of saints. (Hint: If he’s got arrows stuck in him, he’s St. Sebastian.) My ignorance keeps me from appreciating what I’m looking at, much less knowing enough about the history of art to perceive the telling differences in the portrayals. (Simon Schama’s Rembrandt’s Eyes is an astounding example of how knowing stuff helps to see things. (And here’s a rather snippy review of it [pdf] by one of the greatest art historians, E.H. Gombrich.))

The Impressionists are easy because you’re not looking at history or religion. You’re looking at looking. Although that’s not all. I also often have a strong desire to be in the place depicted, even though I’m not much of an outdoors guy. For whatever reason, I don’t have the same reaction to Renaissance landscapes or to the awestruck vistas of the American frontier. Those seem like a lot of work. I want to be on a blanket in Monet’s hayfield or sitting on a rock in Van Gogh’s meadow. It’s easy to like a painting of a place where you want to be, although in real life I’d last for about four minutes before checking my phone for email. So I guess the Impressionists get credit for making me desperate to be somewhere I wouldn’t actually like.

This is related to another aspect of the laziness I feel in my attraction to the Impressionists. They’re not taking commissions to commemorate ugly rich families or to paint a church with heroic scenes. They’re painting fields they don’t till, fruit they don’t pick, and gardens they don’t weed. The social Impressionists are at revels or performances, or watching ladies dry themselves. Of course many of these artists were thereby impoverished, at least for a while, but they were doing exactly what they wanted. So, laziness is the wrong word. Is “self-indulgent” any closer?

[Now for some backpedaling: Monet did a lot of weeding, but had a large staff of gardeners. Not all the scenes the Impressionists painted were happy. They were far from the only artists in history to paint for themselves and not for commissions. And I do understand that they were bravely asserting a human sensory aesthetic, which was not an easy or popular thing to do. So there goes my entire argument. Still, I feel lazy for being drawn to them.]

But screw it. The National Gallery has some beautiful, beautiful paintings. I found myself once again inevitably drawn to Monet. In this case, I was looking at a perfectly rendered painting of the beach at Le Havre, admiring how crisp and precise it was, even though many of the strokes are, well, impressionist. Yet it’s in hyper-focus. In fact, the sharpness of the mountain’s edge where it meets the sky is quite dramatic. It turns out the painting is by Monet. (The National Gallery has put these images on line. Thank you!!)

On the opposite wall, there’s a late Monet called “Water Lillies, Setting Sun,” which is much more vividly red than the online image appears. It shows lilies, the surface of the water, the water’s depth, a reflection of a willow tree, and the redness of a sunset. It took a moment to snap into focus, but when it did, I thought, “Wow. You really have to be a human to see this painting.” Send it in a space ship and aliens would never figure out what it’s a painting of. But if you are an earthling, it’s all there – earth, sky, water, life, surface and depth, reflection and shadow, days and nights. Everything except for humans of course. But we’re the ones who can paint this and see it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not respond only to Impressionism. I also am moved by other artists easy to like. Rembrandt does it for me just about every time. The Renaissance Italians had a way with a brush and chisel. But no artists make me feel simultaneously as moved and lazy as the Impressionists.


I had dinner with Suw , and it turns out that we both admire the Paul Delaroche painting The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, so I thought I’d put in the link to it.

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July 12, 2012

Non-levitated mass

Guy Horton criticizes Michael Heiser’s new artwork at the LA County Museum of Art.

Photo of Levitated Mass

I saw it a couple of weeks ago. And outwardly, it’s nothing but a giant rock with a walkway cut underneath it. But inwardly, it’s a big expensive rock with a pointless walkway cut underneath it.

Aesthetically, I got nothing from it. The rock is big and heavy. The walkway is sloping and concretey. Walking underneath it reveals nothing about the rock except that its looks the same from underneath as from ground level.

So maybe it’s one of them artworks that are really about an idea. But what idea? Rocks are big? Rocks have bottoms? Do you like rocks? I like rocks. Some idea like that?

I’m not saying that you have to be able to explain everything about an artwork. I take as one of the points of Rothko’s paradigmatic works that you can’t really explain why the best of them are numinous.

But you can at least gesture at the colors and use a word like “numinous. If nobody can point to what there is to like about a work, then maybe it’s just a rock.

Here’s what the LACMA’s page says:

Taken whole, Levitated Mass speaks to the expanse of art history, from ancient traditions of creating artworks from megalithic stone, to modern forms of abstract geometries and cutting-edge feats of engineering.

In short: “It’s a rock. It wasn’t carved or nothing, and it was !@#$ing hard to get it here. We hope you enjoy it $10M worth.”


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