Grundberg, Andy · The Crisis of the Real

Grunberg’s essay, influenced by Baudrillard’s writings, explores the meaning of postmodernism, representation, the real, and appropriation. Postmodernism means different things to different mediums, first starting with architecture’s eclecticism and combination of old and new styles. With dance, it is the use of everyday gestures without narrative. And in photography it is about masking and unmasking. Postmodern, conceptual photographers are influenced by everyday life and pop culture.

Grundberg perfectly sums up his definition of postmodernism as “the inability to have a ‘pure, unblemished meaning or experience” (p.168). It is about deconstructing the importance of the author and of the individual’s genius, throwing away ideas of originality and autonomy. Nothing is original and that is ok. For example, with photography the nature of its medium allows for easy reproducing undercutting ideas of authorship. Postmodernism is not about a style or the intent of the artist, but how self-aware we are in a world full of multiple truths.

With all these articles on postmodernism, I’m left wondering what is next? When does the era of postmodernism end or is this art’s final stage? I’ve always understood postmodernism as “many truths”, with a focus on identity politics and subjectivity. Postmodernism is fragmented and very Western-based. What does postmodernism mean to communities where traditional practices are still carried on today, where the passage of time and the tendency to categorize is of lesser importance?

It would be difficult to write about postmodern photography without including Cindy Sherman. Her Instagram account has been full of new images of the artist playing with photo editing software and with ideas and images of the self. Another aspect of postmodernism is its humor and parody, something that Sherman exemplifies.

Katy Grannan’s portraits capture every intimate physical detail of the sitter yet are still mysterious. She has created a number of photographic series of people met through newspaper classifieds. We see the humanity of the subjects even though the lighting may be unflattering.

What can be said of the great Carrie Mae Weems? Her timeless Kitchen Table (1990) series powerfully shows that the personal is political, following a woman’s life and her experiences that revolve around something that we can all relate to – a kitchen table. A woman telling her own story, she is portraying herself as she wants to be represented.

And of course I had to include Jeff Wall. I straight up love his work, especially A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) (1993) because of its reference to art history, the importance of presentation, and the amount of work that goes into creating one perfect shot.


Heins, Marjorie · Media Effects

In her essay, Heins explores children’s relationships to violence and sex in the media. She concludes that all children react differently because although there are effects from viewing violent or sexual images in the media, they are various and difficult to quanitfy. Violent and sexual acts have happened in history without the help of media and will continue to do so. There is no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ violence, just violence. What constitutes ‘bad’ behavior anyway? Aggression? Physical hitting? There are no definitions or thresholds given.

With regard to statistics, correlations doesn’t equal causation and just because something is statistically significant, doesn’t mean that it is important. Data can be manipulated, too, skewing results in favor of one outcome or another. Even so, there needs to be a continued discussion, interpretation, and critique of media messages. Real conversations need to be had, not just ones rooted in fear, anger, or ideology. Within these discussions, it is also important to note the influence of gender, race, and class.

Leon Golub. Interrogation II, 1981

Leon Golub’s paintings, without even knowing their content, leaves the viewers with a sick feeling in their stomach. Bright color blocks of red, erratic lines, and empty space work together to give his work about war and violence a nauseating feeling.

Felix Gonzales Torres. Untitled (Perfect Lovers), 1987-1990.

What makes art so frightening is its ability to talk about things that scare us and make us uncomfortable. Felix Gonzalez Torres’s art created during the HIV/AIDs crisis of the ’80s humanized the epidemic that killed so many.

Demian DinéYazhi’ works with text, poetry, performance, photography, installation, and graphic design about colonization, queerness, ceremony, and more.

Using the least offending Terry Richardson photo I could find, that of Tyler the Creator, I almost did not want to include the man who has been accused of so many sexual allegations and rape. The question is why people continue to work with him? Because he’s provocative? Just another abuser.

Signe Pierce and Alli Coates’s American Reflexxx (2015) is an important piece of art and social commentary on the violence against gender non-conforming people and the amount of xenophobia in American culture. It’s incredibly unnerving to watch.

Lyotard, Jean Francois · Defining the Postmodern

What is postmodernism? According to Lyotard, postmodernity is about reflecting on modernity and analyzing what has already taken place. Progress is not always linear, and without analyzing the past (the modern) we will either make the same mistakes again or rehash what has already been made, as seen in bricolage. That is, the combination of different elements from different time periods without regard to the environment. Just whatever is on hand. Lyotard also waxes on progress for a bit, proclaiming that progress isn’t always good, is not always profitable, and not always about complexity.

Berdnaut Smilde’s Nimbus (2012) series is a great example of postmodern art. Lasting only for about 10 seconds, his man-made clouds are simple and take into account the spaces they inhabit. He documents them by taking their photograph.

I was able to see and experience Christian Boltanski’s Archives du Coeur (2008) when my sister and I traveled Japan last summer. Sometimes you have to immerse yourself in the art or see it for yourself in order to truly understand it before dismissing it as pretentious. Hearing the heartbeats in a womb-like room with a synchronized flashing light is a beautiful experience that made me thinking about the cyclical nature of life and death. And of course my sister just thought it was ok lol.

After visiting for the Gathering of Nations last April, I fell in love with New Mexico. I wish I could have experienced Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field (1977), though, another work of art dealing with time, the elements, and how art can be so much more than a painting on a gallery wall. This is the type of art that excites me.

Paul McCarthy. Tree, 2014

I used to dislike Paul McCarthy but now I love his work. I especially love that butt plug sales skyrocketed after his Tree was inflated!

Probably my most favorite piece of postmodern art is a prank by two teenagers who left their glasses on the floor at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Owens, Craig · Representation, Appropriation, and Power

Owens does not focus on the meaning of art and its politics, ideology, or propaganda, but on what art does and accomplishes. What does art do? Representation is not neutral. It is about power, about who is excluded and included, and more. Art history takes part in these power structures via attribution. Owens argues that because of its power, humanities like art history work in legitimizing and perpetuating Western European culture.

Western art history has defined representation in terms of absence and presence. The image is seen as a stand-in for something else, an absence whereas the presence is the replica of the image. There is a need to focus on what has been and what is concealed. Transparency reveals what has been rendered invisible. Interpreting art is all about power.

Owens focuses primarily on painting, so his argument could be fleshed out a little more. For instance, I’ve been waiting for the Indigenous Art History course at Kwantlen and I assume it will not be taught. There are not that many indigenous professors to begin with, let alone in the Fine Arts Department. Just recently, the Brooklyn museum hired a white woman as the consulting curator for African art and there has been an uproar over representation in museums and in the arts.

The Pulitzer Prize winning art critic Jerry Saltz’s instagram is refreshing to follow as he points out the failures in art history and in art criticism, focusing on censorship, sexism, politics, power and racism in the art world and in pop culture.

Following the account Renoir Sucks at Painting is a humorous reminder that not all that we are taught in art history is the truth. Maybe Renoir does suck at painting… They have some good points!

Print after Mather Brown. Portrait of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, 1788.

People of Color in European Art is an excellent resource and another reminder of what is and isn’t taught in art history classes.