Blog Review: The Glaze

Bret Schneider

The Glaze, like many art blogs that have gained rapid popularity in the past five years, features new art in an objective visual format, almost polemically unadorned by text, theory, criticism or any explicit accompanying ideas. It lacks a mission statement or “about” page, and its creator is seemingly non-existent, so the site appears as if it just spontaneously materialized out of the ether. However, unlike Contemporary Art Daily (CAD), or VVORK, which are promiscuously comprehensive in the contemporary works they exhibit, The Glaze presents work of a particular sensibility. CAD and VVORK serve a referential social function, as user’s guides to emergent contemporary art curated by contemporary art aesthetes, and in the case of CAD, an in-depth listing of worthwhile exhibitions currently on view internationally. The Glaze, however, focuses on exposing a specific set of latent artistic problems, upholding Painting as a convention and an ideal (though occasionally the curator presents sculpture and collage works tinged with a painterly sensibility). The Glaze is idiosyncratically cohesive, seeming to have a more specific, though tacit mission than many other contemporary art blogs. Its raison d‘être is to present the perennial return to formal painting, so as to (at least hypothetically) clarify a lingering problem within a mode of contemporary art that is not adequately dealt with. The death of painting and its subsequent revival, plodding along in a highly technological world should not exist the way it does now. The return to painting (or the re-return) today presents itself through The Glaze not in preconceived ideas or ideology, and not entirely within individual works, but through a powerful and rigorous archival format that exceeds singular works and presents contemporary painting as an enigmatic specter with a rich life of its own.

Untitled. 2001. Alkyd enamel and latex on canvas. 54 x 36 in. © Landon Metz

The Glaze, intentionally or not, renders explicit recent changes in artistic perception by zooming-out-and-archiving new painting as a whole. In this sense, The Glaze is an unavoidably critical project; this intoxicating bewilderment we get from dreamily scrolling and blinking endlessly through culture on blogs, the new curiosity cabinets, is an appeal to what remains of critical judgment. It is not explicitly about painting but is also not not about painting; it concerns a curious type of contemporary subjectivity in which painting is aberrantly implicated. The Glaze exposes a dizzying array of painting being made within a particular sensibility, though one finds difficulty articulating what, exactly, that sensibility is, without doing injustice to the work. On the surface, one can call the paintings of The Glaze impoverished or distressed, in light of their dirty, tactile materialism, with an almost pathological abstract aesthetic. They are not designed, clean, austere, nor geometric—one can quickly burn through a large chunk of art and theory vocabulary trying to get at what they are. However useful or useless those specific terms may be, one gets the sense that the artists are reacting to the artistic ideologies of minimalism. One can also understand why in a NY Times article from a couple years ago Roberta Smith labeled much of the emerging experimental work of a few summers ago as existing within the canon of Postminimalism or Arte Povera. But there is a significant distinction to be made between contemporary painting on The Glaze and the postminimalist-arte povera-unmonumental work, in that, whereas the latter movements were sculptural, new impoverished painting is not. One could also disregard the look of the painting altogether in order to articulate style by making recourse to a more general idea of art that painting has aided the development of; no matter how impoverished they look, paintings with the appearance of having sat in musty basements for decades, dragged through urban decay, reliefs of gum-pocked sidewalks, yellowed by forgetfulness and dust, can be looked at as a formal overcoming of decay. Representing ultimately means distancing from the subjective ailments of contemporary social life and its poverty of experience, thus delivering it into pure abstraction. But what presents itself stylishly as an expression of subjective desolation, isolation, and marginalization is inevitably determined by various means of constructing an aura towards such end, and trying to find a means of adequately representing a sentiment, and then curiously failing, suggesting we are something much more detached than unhappy consciousnesses. Poverty of experience cannot be easily represented in these paintings, and in turn becomes something else unnameable.

© Shaan Syed

This aura emerges in an era of unquestioned technological triumphs. One is reminded of Michelangelo smoking his drawings to give them a prematurely aged aura. A similar—but not identical—artificial aging process is undertaken by many young painters in order to give the work a credibility that is otherwise denied in a highly technological society that has already triumphed over painting, and has no conscious need for it. Technological means of production challenged painting’s ability to adequately capture the spirit of modern subjectivity, and consequently pushed it into its own autonomous conventionality. Not having to be tethered to a folk tradition of cultural inheritance any longer (paintings once serving as a function of social memory) its tradition and its future were wrenched open. Now shoeboxes full of photos and VHS tapes, audio recordings, and blogs archive cultural memory for us, so that painting should be further liberated from serving memory; it is only natural that ephemeral artworks like Eva Hesse’s, for example, would emerge after this technological phenomenon. And of course part of the problem of The Glaze is that it is a blog, emulating the feeling of looking through a shoebox of old photos of paintings from the past, even while these are up-to-the-minute works. Certainly part of the appeal of making art today is the potential of destroying it immediately after its documentation, a painting can easily be canonized without seeing the light of day. This is not to say that we won’t see them, but that they may never see us. Part of the problem of the blog in this instance is that the blog could do more for art by leaving art alone, by serving the function of recording memory exclusively, rather than by trying to become a work in itself.  That is, the need for artworks—here paintings—to gain credence via administered documentation is an unfortunate, but currently necessary means of exhibition in order to construct a convention of experience not yet attained. It is crucially ‘pre-artistic’, so to speak.

Yams. 2010. Beechwood foam. © Joseph Murray

Technological society has appropriated this aura construction, which is a critical distancing technique, suggesting we do not see technology objectively despite all our best attempts, and that we are already beyond technology in our subjectivity. The aura aims to deliver to the viewer an object so over-produced that the viewer feels that it has been made especially for them, and only them (this is the premise of the Macintosh laptop according to its designers). The success of this method in marketing and popular culture, is far greater than in painting today, which exists in highly specialized communities and markets reliant on a painterly discourse and social prestige that is today in confused disarray. The way technology has appropriated the aura poses a challenge to advanced aesthetic experience in the way these works don’t take a literal, direct stance with the viewer, but exist peripherally, in more complex ways of viewing not available with other products. What The Glaze presents, as brilliantly expressed in the title, is the frosted-over state of painting today, which has something latent. The Glaze is an uncanny archive of art objects that will outlive the humans that appreciate them, and whose subjectivity is a spectral phantasm reaching for material, refracting every cultural object without penetrating it. That we view these paintings in a passive, blinking state online, in a .jpg format that is a different way of experiencing a painting, already shows The Glaze as a refraction of painting. It should be noted, however, that painting is already experienced in this peripheral way, quite distinct from the extended viewing Matisse would have wanted, which is the type now more associated with watching movies or television. One does not spend more than a handful of minutes with a particular work in one moment, but rather returns to them over and over, for brief but crucial intervals. The way painting has been experienced over the past half-century, if not longer, seems to prefigure the existence of apperceptive viewing of today’s blogs.

© Alistair Frost

A lot of the paintings displayed on The Glaze recognize this historical position. In them, the artwork reemerges as an everlasting artifact of history that implies something that is not yet conscious. That many of the paintings are unabashedly Ab-Ex or Bauhaus-influenced exemplifies a pathetic, but also heroic artistic feat: lifting the taboo on modernism, in order to move beyond nostalgia. Monochromes, painterly autonomy, soft geometric abstraction, smallness of scale, formal sketches—in short many of the tropes of modernist painting—find eternal subsistence in The Glaze. When T.J. Clark introduces his Farewell to an Idea, he states his thesis as trying to answer what future archeologists would think we were thinking by making modern paintings. The Glaze would be another pertinent archive for the future determination of this meaning, which seems barred to us today. The Glaze could be examined as proof of what is barred to us today, and appeals more to future generations.

Though its artworks are on the good side of this suspicion by pushing against the philistinism of today, that The Glaze exists at all illuminates unchanged social conditions. We must entertain the idea that the hatred of painting today by social activists, the status quo, and artists for being ‘passé’ or not conceptual enough, is the slightly transformed conservative classicalism of a century ago, and not the radical canon of prohibitions that it makes pretense to continuing. J.M. Bernstein notes in his introduction to Adorno’s “Culture Industry” that modernism had to create a canon of prohibitions, in order to progress. Certain things, like figure painting, had to be prohibited in order to render the new, in order to keep up with, and advance, the changing subjectivity of modernism. This is a thoroughly modern idea, and the shadow of it in today’s art ideology—that painting is ‘dead’, that medium specificity is passé amidst cultural freedoms—should be suspect amidst an art world that considers its hands washed of modernism. That is, modernism exists subconsciously in the pathological consciousness of culture, not consciously in its objects. One has to confront The Glaze’s selections as artifacts of broader social conditions—their mute aesthetic is akin to the extended attention a crack in the wall receives when someone does not, will not, or cannot participate in the dominant conversation. The aesthetic of these paintings is the product of someone who does not find pleasant respite in the conceptual discourses around anything, who finds the social ornament today rather reprehensible, or at the least insufficient, and in need of remediation through different, unmade experience that exceeds it. This withdrawal is intensified and exacerbated by the hostility towards introspection that is common among the status quo, which has taken up a secure residence in certain factions of contemporary art. Painting today is actively mute—it is in what it does not say that it wrenches open experience—its withdrawn introspection is both alien and compelling because what it points to is only implied, not part of, the social ornament.

© Harm Van Den Dorpel

These are paintings made by those, and for those, who recognize and are feeling out the misplacement of their work’s address, as well as the theory that tries to make sense of it but cannot. The work is not nostalgic for this reason. The artists are not trying to return to Ab-Ex, for example, but are trying to realize the new with the tools of the old; if the new does not exist anymore as a hypothesized category, it is not the fault of today’s painters. This implies that painting should be able to progress through theoretical discourse that also does not yet exist (this might explain the distressed return to German Idealism). These are paintings for whom the authoritative discourse aimed at the decentralization of painting, and its mythologized dissolution into the atmospheric everyday (found in both David Joselit’s “Painting Beside Itself,” and Daniel Birnbaum’s celebration of Olafur Eliason dying a river green) falls short of the latent appeals that painting seems to make today as an autonomous, but forgotten convention. Painting is not “beside itself,” so much as inside itself, trying to get out. Furthermore, such ‘dematerialized’ theories are questionable deviations from fully-developed theoretical models of how painting can address and develop the new subject in ever-more complicated ways; e.g. Michael Fried’s theory against theatricality, but more cogently Adorno’s theory of how the artwork holds itself against the viewer in order to develop the viewer, who has new forms of perception opened up to them. These paintings exist as a way of feeling out a new address to the viewer, and often succeed in the peripheral experience the viewer must have with them. They instigate a soft education on how to look, with a sideways glance, peripherally, not myopically. The featured painters often make resourceful use of the mass expulsion of painting into a corner, through paintings that recognize this in form, which often look accidental and unspecialized, but which are, of course, highly refined to reflect this condition in the most dynamic way possible. The paintings, though condemned to a corner, refuse to be marginalized, not by spleen, or a theory of resistance, but through their irresistibility, that exists somewhere in an unconscious that has also been suppressed; because they are simply compelling surfaces which theory and consciousness do not yet touch, and which demands they be confronted, even if they risk death as an alternative. On The Glaze, one catches a glimpse of a whole gamut of paintings that want the subject to experience the world in a different way, and who accidentally form an almost militaristic front of painters potentially more dynamic than Ab-Ex in numbers, quality, and available discourse. These paintings also retain some historical wits and integrity amidst the conformist social turn in a way similar to certain writers in the mid-century, like Beckett, who did not dematerialize his work with certain trends but sealed it against them, maintaining a modicum of subjectivity. And yet The Glaze slips under the radar, the way a book printed in low, exclusive numbers might. Such a front seems to manifest a thorough discourse of painting far too late in the historical game, when modes of production are so advanced that painting has been swallowed entirely but not digested in the least. In The Glaze we glimpse new painting as the old in distress, as the saying goes.

© Jason Osborne

There is also a dimension of this experience which remains barred from the viewer, that the viewer can recognize a need in The Glaze which is not being fulfilled. What this need is, exactly, is not easily identifiable, but painting seems to have reemerged because the technological progress which has left it behind has also abandoned something crucial about experience. Painters (even net art painters!) are not just coincidentally, but also not consciously, polemical against net art for example, in that emerging artistic practices leave something unnameable out of the experience that painting offers, or is expected to offer. Tactility and craft has become important to painting in ways that were once unthinkable due to an escalating dematerialization—and it says something that these paintings reach for greater means of tactility, but it takes a dematerialized blog to illuminate this: there is no immediacy. In this sense, Roberta Smith’s polemic against the death of painting is incomplete—painting doesn’t continue to exist because of its supposed transhistorical humanism, but rather because of the forward regressive march of technical production that leaves something to be desired, and which painting is expected to remedy. Painting might not be important today if it weren’t for the philistinism of viewing that perennially co-develops with the technological consciousness that is so rampant in cultural administration—the constant and crippled cry for logic, statistics, pragmatism, and so forth.  Nevertheless, painting also suffers from this, as new media art (video, photography, internet, etc.) touches upon latent aspects of subjectivity that painting does not. Internet subjectivity and painting are parts trying to add up to a whole: it is due in part to the technical administration of art on blog archives that we can even see such a situation. Ultimately though, the co-existence of painting and blogs might have nothing to do with each other. Each may be used to cobble together some sort of dream-scrolling experience that can be sustained in the world of internet distraction. Blogs are critical, exposing the under-looked ideologies of different art forms, pitting them in tension, at least to those who notice them and yearn for true plurality.

(Cover image: Detail of work by Hayley Tompkins. © Hayley Tompkins of The Glaze.)

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