Tag Archives: 1950s

ABSTRACT PROPAGANDA

1 Mar

ArtPractice

I was recently reminded by this post at Open Culture that Abstract Expressionist painting and exponents of it such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock got a big (though covert) push from the CIA, who secretly organised a number of influential exhibitions including MoMA’s New American Painting. It was all an attempt to depict America internationally as a country with a sophisticated culture borne of a fully functioning democracy.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha… oh… ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Wait, wait… ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Sorry about that. Most Americans hated Abstract Expressionism, and they still do. Not to mention the fact that US foreign and domestic policies in the 1960s moved on to brainwashing, drugging, sabotaging and sometimes just straight up murdering (or having murdered) anyone who stood in the way of their global agenda. But it’s interesting to think about this CIA plot to splatterwash the USA’s international reputation as a project halfway between the naked colonialism of international World Fairs or the Giardini in Venice and the modern era of so-called “soft power” that makes governments like the UK’s or Japan’s trumpet their national cultural industries even while they perversely take an ideological wrecking ball to the very institutions, employment and educational systems that make art and being an artist viable. What, you thought it was because they recognised the value of art and artists?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha, etc.

It’s all about the soft power.

You may also like to speculate as to other examples of otherwise inexplicably successful artists or artistic movements that seem with hindsight more likely to be psy ops or vehicles for international spookery.

NeoRealism

ELEA 9003

20 Feb
Olivetti Elea 9003 computer, 1959: designed by Ettore Sottsass Jr and engineered by Mario Tchou.

Olivetti Elea 9003 computer, 1959: designed by Ettore Sottsass Jr and engineered by Mario Tchou.

The Elea 9003 was a mainframe 6-bit computer, the first fully transistorised one that was commercially available. ELEA stands for ELaboratore Elettronico Aritmetico (Arithmetical Electronic Computer). About forty were made. Like most early computers it worked less than 50% of the time.

But the reason I’m posting it here is that fifty years on it actually looks more like an interesting piece of contemporary art rather than a  mere machine, especially with the way it’s been photographed here. What a lovely, baffling thing it is. I wish more artists looked at something apart from a very narrow spectrum of old art when they’re studying art or developing (supposedly) their own practice.

“ANYONE CAN DO IT”

19 Feb
AnyoneCanDoIt

From ‘Paint by Number’ by William L. Bird, Jr, published by the Smithsonian/Princeton Architectural Press, 2001.

“ANYONE CAN DO IT” THE LADY PAINTING THIS PICTURE IS NOT A PAINTER. JUST PUT COLOR NO.17 IN SECTION NUMBERED 17 ETC. IT’S AS SIMPLE AS THAT. SURPRISE YOUR FRIENDS WITH A BEAUTIFUL OIL PAINTING ON CANVAS PAINTED BY YOU. THEY CAN BE WASHED WITH SOAP AND WATER.

A lady (not a painter) demonstrates paint by number sets at a trade show, 1953. The oxymoronic “this painter is not a painter” reminds me of Magritte:

Rene Magritte

Rene Magritte, The Treachery of Images, 1948.

Ceci n’est pas un artiste… Also from 1953, this Woolworth’s Annual Report image:ArtistMaterials

I like the artist’s get up, especially the huge and completely unnecessary blue bow. I might try to put this outfit together, next time I have to appear in public and talk about being an artist.

I’m sure coulrophobes will appreciate me pointing out the lovely John Wayne Gacy clown painting, top right. NB: anyone who paints sailing ships may not be a serial killer but they are definitely mental.

THE VOID

11 Feb
Yves Klein, IKB171

Yves Klein, IKB171

Most people never get to see art galleries when they’re between shows and completely empty of art. Personally, I often find that I like the now orthodox and universal white cube gallery setup much more when it’s vacant than I do when it’s full. I’m remembered in a few places for having them paint the walls because I hate white ones so much when I’m showing my work. I’m guessing that Yves Klein (1928-1962) was also struck by the alienating, Zen effect of the empty white gallery and its effect on our state of mind as we look at art; hence Le Vide (The Void) of 1958 at Galerie Iris Clert, Paris.

This completely whitewashed, bare space was meticulously hyped by Klein and the resulting so-called “scandal” of an artist exhibiting an empty gallery attracted over two thousand people to the opening. Note the empty vitrine in one of the pictures. Here’s where I sigh and ruefully shake my head at the fact that over half a century on from Klein, there are still some otherwise intelligent people (including artists) who don’t understand conceptual art, performance and artistic interventions, and still think it’s scandalous and enraging if an artist doesn’t produce a saleable physical object.

On the subject of white sterility, though, The Void in these photographs actually looks quite grimy and textured in that particularly Parisian way, doesn’t it? It’s not a smooth, clinical space, that’s for certain.

These images are from the interesting and comprehensive Yves Klein Archives.

1958_clert_5 1958_clert_4 1958_clert_2 1958_clert_3

“GALLIZIO PRODUCES PAINTING BY THE METER”

9 Feb
GallizioIndustrialCutAndSale

Pinot Gallizio cutting and selling a scroll of industrial paintings by the meter. Inauguration of ‘Industrille Malerei’ show at Van de Loo Gallery, Munich, April 1959.

Giuseppe (Pinot) Gallizio (1904-1964) worked for most of his life as a pharmacist in Turin. Like many people (including me) who come late or by an otherwise circuitous route to the art world, many of its practices and assumptions struck him as utterly absurd; even more so as he began to participate in them. Gallizio was a founding member of the International Situationists (society of the spectacle masking the degrading effects of capitalism, Guy Debord, the 1968 French uprisings, détournement, dérives, etc: it’s far too large a subject to cover in a single blog post…) and in his art works he tried to cultivate a sense of play and creativity in the face of the capitalist imperative to recuperate, neutralise, and monetise even something as indefinable as art.

One of his projects was industrial paintings, abstract works on scrolls that were designed to be sold and cut on the spot like any other commodity, such as the original blank canvas it was painted on.  The paintings themselves aren’t actually very good or interesting, but that isn’t the point of them. He was making fun of the idea of art as a unique object or a finite resource; judging by the photos on the left, he was having a lot of fun doing it too. What a suave gent. I have to admit that on a few occasions I’ve rocked this bushy moustache and bow tie look at art openings. There’s a post on Yves Klein coming up soon; he favoured similar outfits as well and he also always looks like he’s having a great time in all the photos of him I’ve seen. I’m definitely going to apply myself to perfecting the late 50s/early 60s Continental look now. Like Klein, Gallizio was ahead of his time with his thinking on capitalism, commodification and intellectual property in the art world and in Western society in general.

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