spirits having flown: another gray morning

What is meant by the spiritual in art is not self-evident; its been lost in translation, like finding the code to understanding Van Eyck’s Ghent altarpiece, its becoming extinct as a graspable part of the lexicon and daily interchange. The goal of art, to articulate the spark of inner life should be looked at within the question of whether art can still offer spiritual enlightenment. An ability to represent the spiritual impulse without resorting to traditional iconography. Much blame can be pointed at the plague of materialism, the reigning ideology which has replaced capitalism and succeeded in quantifying and commodifying art and culture as part of the desires/wants package of consumerism. Its a triumph of pop art whose media heralded demand is virtually devoid of any spark, even a brief glimpse of inner life. Director Billy Wilder one remarked he was not certain if Marilyn Monroe was a real person or a synthetic creation. The impression today is that the entire entertainment complex are calculated archetypes, stereotypes and tropes which are entirely synthetic mediated product images.

---Where Beuy's art was fresh, multi-faceted, socially radical and enlarged our sense of the human through its healing purpose, Richter’s art is stale, one-dimensional, socially simplistic and indifferent to human suffering, not to say contemptuous of the human condition, the all-too-human. Where Beuys’ art is moral, richly creative and evocative, Richter’s art is morally indifferent, pseudo-creative and completely lacking in emotional resonance, however provocative -- sexually and socially -- some of its content. In contrast to Beuys, Richter’s is an art of strategy rather than conviction. It is a postmodern version of art for the sake of art.--- Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/kuspit/kuspit2-21-02.asp image:http://www.nationalgalleries.org/whatson/exhibition/5:368/5615/5976

Capitalism, or its mutational variant today,  similar to the old Red version of Socialism, is also a fascist village, a Potemkin village of auto-advertised images, deeply nihilistic, despite the sometimes glamorous veneer, pseudo-intimate;  a  faux-social facade behind which lurks a depressing human void,a game of finding meaning in the meaninglessness, new and creative ways of marketing emptiness as some perverted form of human desire, a solicited “want.”  This facade of images reveals little about social reality,zilch, let alone interiorized worlds and a dialog with  psychological reality. There is simply too much noise; a maelstrom of lies of all stripes, deceptions, herding us into self-deception. All part of the larger, big lie, the meta untruth of modern society and living, and perhaps life in general?

It is this sentiment of unreality and fluff that gnaws somewhere inside us,a betrayal,  a sense of an inner vacuum in reality,a cheating of history, which makes it seem unreal, this is about the only thing that most modern art can capture, since it is the one thing that it comprehends from the inside, its ghetto of a habitat, that eats carnivorously on a diet of profound disillusionment, with its own art as well as society, and perhaps with the artists themselves, imbued with the deep sense of inferiority and inadequacy, unable to  live up to the ideals that traditional art suggested. Its Marcel Duchampism. Just erase the past and worry about the consequences later. kick the can down the road.

…And Hegel, if you read it very carefully, reaches a curious point. He goes from sense experience, okay, very particular sense experience, to pure ideational spiritual experience, and he argues that the climax of spiritual activity—let’s use that word—is the spirit knowing itself and coming and becoming itself. And then suddenly, having said that, he flips right back into sense experience, and he says the spirit knows itself most through sense experiences. So we have the idea of spiritualized sensing, so to say, implicit in Hegel, the whole thing starts over again, and I think Kandinsky is trying to address that moment…. Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/kuspit/kuspit2-21-02.asp

---Indeed, Richter is a master strip-miner, as his Abstract Expressionist paintings show in particular: they are all dead surface with no expressive depth -- nothing of that unconscious that Pollock spoke of. Richter is a master of the fade-out, but he lacks the imagination to invent a scene on his own. He is a predatory appropriator, destroying what he appropriates in the act of doing so. Richter is a relentless negator, turning everything, whatever its source -- often tacky newspaper photographs as well as high art -- into a shadow of itself, sometimes a colorful shadow, but usually a black-and-white or gray one. It is a platitudinous German grayness, but also a sign of creative impotence, not to say esthetic bankruptcy.---Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/kuspit/kuspit2-21-02.asp

… Kuspit: Now, I think there’s something else that’s very important that’s going on today. I’m very interested in maintaining what I call the spiritual impulse in art, and I frankly think it’s disappearing. For me the debate in art is symbolized by the difference between say Gerhard Richter and Anselm Kiefer. I found it a wonderful relief to see Kiefer’s recent show at Gagosian Chelsea. I found it a wonderful antidote in relief from the show by Richter which is now at the Museum of Modern Art, which is now in San Francisco. You can buy a book [Richter 858] for one hundred and twenty five dollars, it has an aluminum sleeve on it, it’s the ultimate hype of an artist. There are eight reproductions in it, two texts by prominent artists. It’s a very slick production. I’ve written about both of these people. For me Richter is the ultimate in the spiritless, cynical artist. I have a piece at artnet.com where I wrote a lot, which is called “Gerhard Richter D.O.A.” It didn’t make me many friends, but I’m getting too old to worry about that. Then I have another piece on artnet.com called “The Spirit of Gray” which is on Kiefer. The subtext was the last ripple of the German Wave, “Deutsche Velle,” as it was called when it happened. Anyway, Richter is spiritless, Kiefer is spiritual, and one of the last holdouts. The last show was dealing with the Kabala, with an interesting text on it by Harold Bloom. It was sensationally well received.

---When Kandinsky spoke of "my tendency toward the hidden, the concealed," he was talking about his ability to see the spiritual concealed in the material—the unfamiliar emotional reality behind familiar material appearances. As he famously wrote in a letter to Will Grohman, the great German scholar, in 1925, "I want people to see finally what lies behind"—that's Kandinsky's emphasis—"my painting." On the Spiritual in Art begins with a long diatribe against what he called "the long reign of materialism, the whole nightmare of the materialistic attitude, which has turned the life of the universe into an evil, purposeless game."--- Read More:http://www.blackbird.vcu.edu/v2n1/gallery/kuspit_d/reconsidering_text.htm

You may be aware—if you’re not, I’ll make you—that Richter has sharply attacked Kiefer as too pretentious, too much into the sublime, among other things, okay. I think that’s a mistake, so that’s one thing I want to address. The other thing I think that’s happening, and that Kandinsky stands right in the middle of, is that we’re at a moment of a paradigm change, as it’s called, it’s been going on for a while in the history of art. I believe that the idea of fine art is dead or dying. The idea of fine art which emerged in the eighteenth century, symbolized by Kant’s aesthetics—and there was no concept of aesthetics in traditional philosophy—and then by the discourses by Reynolds, that that’s on the way out, it’s going. I think art is becoming very ideological, and it’s less interested in mediating this special experience called the “aesthetic,” which you can get outside of art but which is intensified and more concentrated within the, so to say, closed circle of discourse which is art….( ibid.)

---The irregular surface seems to overcompensate for its inertia and uniformity, but does nothing to dispel the gray and bring life to Kiefer's tomb-like cosmos. In Poe's tomb the dead were buried alive, but in Kiefer's tomb there is no body, only an idea -- the idea of Germany, a never-never land of the morbid imagination. Both tell tall Gothic tales, but Poe's suggest a defeated yearned-for life while Kiefer's show an unmistakable love of death -- a romance with death, indeed, a seduction by death, in which life seems beside the point. Poe's Ligeia is much more vital, however sickly, than Kiefer's German femme fatale -- his faithless gray lady. ---Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/kuspit/kuspit12-19-02.asp image:http://modelsown.blogspot.com/2011/06/monumenta-by-anselm-kiefer.html

…So I think Kandinsky is bringing together the spiritual idea of art with the aesthetic idea of art, or let’s say the spiritual impulse, and trying to unite them. Okay, so these are some of the things I’m going to do. And I’m going to show works which you’re probably familiar with, and I will talk a little bit about them and say things I’m sure you’re familiar with from Kandinsky.Read More:http://www.blackbird.vcu.edu/v2n1/gallery/kuspit_d/reconsidering_text.htm


Ironically, marketing materialism has given art more visibility and prestige than it had when it served religion and the aristocracy. It is a two way street: business’s enthusiastic endorsement of avant-garde art’s professed autonomy is business’s covert way of asserting its own autonomy, that is, its belief that, like art, it is answerable and responsible only to itself. By supporting art, business appropriates art’s supposedly intrinsic value and claims to advanced consciousness. Ours is a business culture not a religious culture, and it is impossible to find spiritual significance in what Warhol called business art. I submit to you that Warhol’s art is a celebration of business, which is in part why it sells. It is certainly a long way from the color mysticism of the interiors of the churches that Kandinsky visited and that his early abstract works struggled to emulate. Corporate headquarters are not churches, even though their decoration with works of art are attempts to give them spiritual significance. Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe, which I showed you before, 1962, is also irreconcilable with Kasimir Malevich’s abstract icons, which he compared to spiritual experiences in a desert, the proverbial place to have them….

---Germany has become a scarecrow made of dead stalks. This has a certain emotional as well as historical truth to it: Kiefer's straw figures are failed Germans as well as failed artists, just as his lumps of lead signify Germany's failure to spiritually renew itself in the aftermath of World War II as well as the rubble of heavenly palaces that never were. Kiefer's new works are supposed to be about the Kabbalah, but I think they show his ongoing preoccupation with the Holocaust -- indeed, his obsession with the Jews Nazi Germany sacrificed to ensure victory as well as rid the world of degeneracy (the Holocaust had alchemical purpose, that is, it embodies Nazi Germany's alchemical ambition to make the world a pure place). The Kabbalah is an excuse to dwell on violence and loss -- and Kiefer's works reek of violent loss. They are more descendental than transcendental. The stairway in the lower part of Sefroth (2002) seems to descend rather than ascend -- it doesn't go very high, but does reaches to the bottom of the picture, that is, the earth.---Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/kuspit/kuspit12-19-02.asp

…In contrast, Warhol’s work epitomizes the business materialism of the crowd, it’s what I call crowd art. Ironically, Warhol’s cynical attempt to turn the dead actress into a sacred presence—and she was very good business, like Elvis—reinforces her profaneness and spiritual insignificance. Gold is either filthy lucre, or, alchemically speaking, ultima materia, that is, the ultimate sacred substance, and Warhol’s perverse fusion—and perversion is another major strategy in art, and irony is part of it in contemporary art—perverse fusion of its opposed meanings in the socio-cosmetic construction of Marilyn Monroe is the ultimate materialistic nihilism. It is the exemplary case of the confusion of values that occurs in a business society, and that Kandinsky fought against.Read More:http://www.blackbird.vcu.edu/v2n1/gallery/kuspit_d/reconsidering_text.htm

---Kandinsky, himself an accomplished musician, once said "Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul." The concept that color and musical harmony are linked has a long history, intriguing scientists such as Sir Isaac Newton. Kandinsky used color in a highly theoretical way associating tone with timbre (the sound's character), hue with pitch, and saturation with the volume of sound. He even claimed that when he saw color he heard music. ---Read More:http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/kandinsky/ image:http://marialaterza.blogspot.com/2010/10/wassily-kandinsky.html

The light of heaven is always impure — contaminated by gray, which is the subtlest of hells — in Kiefer’s works. Art has become decadent in Kiefer’s works — decadent not only because it is no longer able to transmute historical truth into redeeming, uplifting, tranquil(izing) beauty (as classical art did), thus helping us bear the unbearable, but in Nietzsche’s sense: art has lost its instinct for life and thus become incurably sick — everlastingly devitalized, like Kiefer’s gray. ( Kuspit )

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