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Thursday, July 12, 2012

LOOKING AT 20th CENTURY ART

            francis picabia


Rain all day yesterday, all day today and all day tomorrow. It is a soft rain, a little more than sprinkles, but not much. Mid July, the time of year when the fresh green leaves of spring begin to age, lose their lustre, have holes eaten in them by bugs, some turning yellow randomly here and there. The green is vibrant after a couple days of rain and before that a week of moderate heat. The leaves have seemed thicker than usual this year. Now they are seeming to keep the green of vibrant spring on into July. The white rhododendron are blooming now. They are the ones that grow in the woods and have pointed leaves. The pink rhododendron grow on the edge of woods, liking more sunlight, having a rounded tip on the leaves. In the old days, rhododendron was called laurel. The white flowers were called pink. The pink flowers were called purple. That's actually more accurate than what we call them today. The white flowers are actually pink. The pink flowers have a purple to them. Mountain laurel were called ivy in the old days when rhododendron were called laurel. The rhododendron are a large part of the beauty of the mountains in June and July when the green world is at its zenith. After them, the mountain laurel bloom.


I'd so much rather live in a place where rhododendron and mountain laurel bloom all around where I live in the mountain than in a place with 8-lane highways lined on both sides by corporate fast food and shopping center signs. I prefer my quiet location to anyplace in a city. I'd rather make less money living here, rather have less opportunities, and rather do without a career. Whenever I went to a city in the past, like New York, Houston, Kansas City, I check out the modern art museum. I've been to the Mint in Charlotte half a dozen times and keep going back to see their American collection again. It may not be the greatest collection of American art ever, but it is a good collection and I like to walk through it seeing the representative images from the range of American painters. The art museums are my only interests in cities. I used to go to the Museum of Modern Art in New York until it started costing so much to get in I couldn't justify it. All my urban travel is over. I'm not flying anywhere because I am not submitting to police state voluntarily, certainly not paying for the abuse. I stay at home ant see the MoMA website online, look at the paintings of Rothko, Newman, Rivers, Dali, Warhol, on and on, Anselm Kiefer, Brice Marden, Frank Stella.


It was New York prices leaving my reach and insurmountable transportation issues that have put art in museums out of my reach. I am satisfied to look at art books. I have a 2vol 20th Century American art collection I love. I can sit and look at it with the same awe I feel walking in a museum. In the museum, though, it is the thing itself. I like that, but don't have access to it, so 2nd, 3rd, 4th best will have to do. I've known so many people along the way to throw off on museums as an art viewing experience. The worst was an old hippie I once knew who wanted to see paintings or sculpture one at a time in a "real" (whatever that is) setting or context. Where you going to do that? Corporate offices? I'm not a purist. I take my art as I can find it. I love walking along a wall seeing a black and white Franz Kline abstraction, a Warhol silkscreen, a Jasper Johns target, a David Hockney swimming pool, a Dan Flavin fluorescent tube. It gives me a major thrill to stand in front of a Kandinsky that he applied the paint to. My only motivation for wealth would be to have a collection of art that I love. I'd like a room with a Robert Mangold in it, an Ellsworth Kelly, a Cy Twombly, a Kenneth Noland. I could spend happy time in a room with paintings by these people on the walls.


I see my art the plebeian way instead of the privileged way. That's ok. When I look at a Rothko online, it has light behind it. That's how they look when I stand before them, like the light is coming from within. I like looking at art books and photography books. This is how I am able to see Francis Picabia's paintings that characterized Dada about as poignantly as the Sex Pistols characterized punk rock. Kurt Schwitters constructed the interior of his house as one of his works of dada constructions he called Merz (work); an American bomb took it out in a direct hit during WW2. I like knowing a little bit about van Gogh's life. I like having a two-volume set of his complete paintings to look at and marvel over. I love my Brancusi book with so many beautiful color photos of his works, pictures of his studio, text by his closest friends, who were also from Romania. I love my books of minimalist sculpture. My picture books are on a couple of shelves to my left within reach. Sometimes I pick one, sit back for awhile with it and enjoy the images as briefly or as long as I please. The Marcel Duchamp books are like the four corners of a foundation. I love about Duchamp that I can only feel what he's doing per piece; can't connect with it mentally. Like a joke, explaining one of his works kills it.


The Art of Zen by Stephen Addiss is my companion piece to the Duchamp books in the house. I can't help but imagine Duchamp a Zen master in a previous lifetime who came in this time a French artist to introduce to the western world the Zen understanding of art on a whole new level, new dimension. I have an idea Duchamp's vision will characterize 20th century art for future centuries, raising the consciousness bar for art to follow him. The Dadaists occurred in Zurich during the time of WW1--Zurich was loaded with draft dodgers from all over Europe, Lenin one. Lenin had an apartment in close proximity to Cabaret Voltaire, the Dada hangout, though he never attended. He had other things on his mind besides art--too bad for the Romanovs. I think of the Dada period something of a chopping block. It was like a cleaver came down and rent in two the progression of art into before and after. The beginning of the Modern period. They started as if there had been no art before. Dada was a burst of energy in the art world like WW1 was a burst of energy in the political world. Dada was the visual expression of the change in western civilization from before electricity to after electricity. Art took a giant leap in consciousness. Collective humanity has had consciousness raised collectively with the introduction of electricity.


The art of the 20th century illustrates the raising of our consciousness. Pierre Bonnard and Francis Picabia were painting at the same time. The conceptual leap from Bonnard to Picabia is considerable. I don't mean the painting from Picabia is better or lesser than what went before, but that was not a consideration. A new energy happened among the Dadaists in Zurich and simultaneously with Marcel Duchamp in Paris. I can't help but think they must have been tapped into some wave of energy that was raising our consciousness. It showed up in art first, because that's where consciousness visualizes. It was a renascence that began in that time. Going by the art alone, this renascence that was called the Modern period from 1915-1969, give or take however many years to suit particular interpretations, was the greatest such age in the evolution of civilization. The art of the period is dynamic, even exciting. Art characterized the modern all the way along. While the working people were discovering washers and dryers, Jackson Pollock was slinging paint, Jasper Johns painting flags, Alex Calder hanging mobiles, Carl Andre laying brick.


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