Even after 60 years of making art, though, [Jasper] Johns is still not entirely at ease with his practice. “I laboured over these a lot,” he says of “Regrets”. “Somehow what you end up with seems to be something you should have known was there to begin with, even though you had to work so hard to find it.”
That being an artist is still so arduous perplexes him. “I worry about the difficulty of making things, or the difficulty of knowing what to do,” he admits. “I may think, having been working at this all these years, why don’t I find it easy? Since it’s a relatively simple activity.”
I love video art. Being moving images, the sensory experience we are as, or more, accustomed to as talking with other humans, video art seems to have remarkably fast access to our thoughts. Though many people feel uncomfortable commenting on a painting by an artist they don’t know, I’ve never seen anyone very reticent after watching an unkown video work.
Methods and subjects in video art vary widely, from Ryan Trecartin’s gonzo, AfterEffects-distorted, drag-doused, chaotic critique/lovefests of contemporary media culture to the haunting, detached treatment of nuclear power and society in Mika Taanila’s The Most Electrified Town in Finland. Some of the sharpest critiques of contemporary culture and the most incisive political questions exist only in video.
Perversely, though, video works are some of the most inaccessible in contemporary art. Not that they are difficult to comprehend—mostly, it’s just hard to find an actual copy of the damn things. Galleries wouldn’t dream of streaming video works online and they largely outsource draconion control of video files and their performance rights. Public access consists of lending physical media to established institutions for soometimes-significant fees.
This state of affairs is strange and disappointing for artworks that exist as digital video files, a medium the Internet has proven very capable of spreading widely, rapidly. And video art should be spread widely, rapidly!
There are artists who buck the trend, and one whose work I love is Francis Alÿs. He not only streams all his work, but releases it under a very liberal Creative Commons license. Spend a few minutes watching his REEL - UNREEL, in which a pair of kids playfully unfurl and reroll film through the streets of Kabul: I bet you, like me, didn’t know what the streets of Kabul looked like.
Maybe even share it, like good art ought to be.
“He takes it seriously, I think it’s interesting. If you are amused, you may laugh. If you like it, you may buy the recording.”
John Cage on a 1960s variety show performing “Water Walk”
Wool is often reviled, but these stencil paintings in particular I find compelling. The text and form is adept (some might say overwrought): a détournement of a quote you recognize-but-not, in a stencil which you’ve seen produced yet haven’t. Even if you find his paintings overly and emptily referential, there’s something to be said for the sense of the uncanny that he can construct out of so little visual material.
(I accidentally saw this piece a few years ago in the same show, on two separate trips in two different museums, Valencia then Strasbourg.)
portrait of ross by felix gonzalez-torres
As I’ve gone on and on about this guy today, it’s easy to see why he’s one of my favorite conceptual artists.
At first glance it would appear to be the perfect parody of contemporary art. “Why, it’s only a pile of candy!” Those more inclined to actually interrogate it as a work of art might be more charitable. They might interpret the color, the texture. They might realize how the haphazard nature of the candy’s piling makes it’s final form mutable. And if they were bold enough, they might take a piece of the candy and eat it and enjoy it, and realize that this work of art gave the viewer some sort of tactile reaction and sense manipulation that a Monet or Martini or Mondrian couldn’t.
Ross was Gonzalez-Torres’s lover, who died of AIDS. When Ross was first diagnosed, his doctor told him his ideal weight was 155 pounds. Every day, the candy is weighed and 155 pounds is placed out. Here the candy IS love/happiness/sweetness/togetherness. Visitors to the museum are encouraged to enjoy a piece. It’s a giving, generous work of art; but with a dark edge; for as the candy gradually diminishes it symbolizes Ross’s weight loss due to AIDS. However, each morning the candy is weighed out and replenished,so that in this artwork (unlike life) Ross may live on forever.
Two years ago, I went as this piece for Halloween. I wore all white and tied a piece of Gatorboard to my stomach, on which I piled candy and rubber cement. Needless to say, I left a trail of crushed candy and pretension across at least two boroughs.