Here's my thoroughly personal report from the conference in Boston. A bit looooong for a blog entry, but short considering all the activities at the conference.
I arrived in Boston on Tuesday 21st February. I had to stay one night in the Hampton Inn, because I was arriving one day earlier than my roommate. A nice place, very friendly and helpful people --- but the heating was extremely erratic. It went from very hot to very cold, back and forth. I usually get a "weird plane air" and jet-lag feeling when I fly across the Atlantic or a similar distance or length of time. This, together with the fluctuating heat succeeded in giving me a head cold, which has continued until now, weeks later. Boston had almost no snow, unlike the mountains in Switzerland where I live, where I left behind snow about waste deep. However, strangely and abnormally, it was even colder than the Alps. Bitter cold.
Early Wednesday morning, I checked into my "real" conference hotel, the Boston Back Bay Hilton. Beautiful, ritzy, expensive. Comfortable heating. Then I went to the CAA Conference, in the conference center adjacent to the Hotel as well as the Sheraton. Here is the check-in hall.
I started attending interesting sessions immediately. Made at least one in every time slot throughout the week (twice I left one to finish up in another). On the way to the first hotel, I shared a hotel shuttle bus with 5 young women, graduate students from Savannah College. All painters. Imagine that, those outrageous young people. They want to paint! At a university! Don't they know enough to do "media" work or cute events? Here they are: Erica Gajewski, Lisa G. Johnson, Edna Dapo, Nicky Buckingham and Sarah Sharp. Oops, I forgot, one is missing from the photo. I repeatedly came across Erica during the conference. They all seem knowledgeable and motivated, especially Erica. Let's all wish them the best as they enter into this preposterous, duplicitous village we call an artworld.
Young American Painters
At coffee I met several interesting "established artists" including Scott Betz, from Winston- Salem. He mixes linear, drawing ideas with installation.
The first session I went to was "The Altered Page." This was a "Studio Arts Session," so one of the few times I saw artists speak, rather than historians or curators. Very enjoyable. I'd like to add that I despise the term "studio art." It has been created by historians and critics for something that already has a name --- "art." The creation of art is called art. Everything else, even if interesting, even if I love it too, is something else. These "other" art-related activities have been referred to, until recently, as "secondary" or scholarly activities. Not meaning, thereby, less important, but "after the fact." Moreover, much art today is actually post-studio, created outside the studio, so "studio art" is simply a clumsy, unnecessary turn of phrase. One that I suspect is, once again, an attempt by non-artists in the artworld to usurp the role of the artist. Be proud of your own job and let us do ours!
Most exciting to me --- as will not surprise anyone who knows my work --- was the paper "Colossal Volumes: Cycloramas, Inhabitable Books, and Illuminated Rooms" by Amy Broderick of Florida Atlantic University. (Unfortunately, I can find no website for her.) Broderick has created remarkable, large-scale drawings which become installation-like. (Note: in German there is a wonderful adjective for this --- "installativ" ---, which we should borrow and anglicize. I will start doing it now.) She makes striking large-scale, installative drawings. She showed very little of her own work, however, presenting and discussing more famous artists' installations, which, together with her own approach, she sees as contemporary, yet, can be seen as enlarged illuminated manuscripts: Very intriguing. Entranced as I am with vernacular forms such as sign painting and comics on the one hand, and art history since the Renaissance on the other, this was a new insight to me. I had considered San Rocco and even the Sistine Chapel, but not illumination. Very perceptive Broderick --- and show more of your own works next time. I loved them!
The second session I went to was "Gordon Matta-Clark and Architecture," chaired by Philip Ursprung, a fellow Swiss, of my Universität Zürich. A professor of Art History, Ursprung not only conceived a stimulating session theme, chose other participants well, but also added discerning words of his own to the panel.
Ursprung has written on a variety of contemporary artists and architects, including Herzog and de Meuron (architects about whom I too have written). (As an aside, Mr U has a fascinating surname --- it is German for "origin;" "Ur"= primeval, "Sprung"= leap, Mr Primeval-Leap, Origin of All Things.) Here he is.
One of the speakers he chose for this session was the prominent and exciting artist Teresa Hubbard, who teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, and creates beautiful video installations (yeah --- me --- they're "media" artworks --- and I really like them!) with her partner Alexander Birchler. Hubbard, who is Irish, and Birchler, who is Swiss, have been shown all over the world, including in the Whitney and at the 1999 Venice Biennale. Hubbard was alone this time, making her presentation by twice playing a short film loop titled Single Wide Space. It features a seemingly emotionally distraught woman crashing her car through the wall of a cheap, pre-fab trailer-like home, climbing out, going outside to get in the car and doing it again. Simple to describe, but simply tragic and gorgeous. Hitchcock, Kafka, Hopper and Sherwood Anderson in one. Visual poetry.
Here's the team.
The discussion after the presentations was equally edifying, good questions and Jane Crawford, the widow of Matta-Clark and the estate director, was in the audience. She gave some direct personal information and reflections.
The hall was packed. Hundreds of attendees. Mercy, though, was that some serious word-ifying. It went on for more than two hours, well beyond its planned length. Their were many awards to be given, and to some very impressive people and for some very noteworthy projects, but with reading each laudatory text in its entirety, and thank-yous and so on, .... The texts were well written, but were all in the program booklet we received, so perhaps they didn't need to be read aloud, or could have been shortened. All those around me were getting restless. I didn't mind it much as I was tired and enjoyed seeing the awardees' in the flesh. The award winners included Edward M. Kennedy (Lifetime Achievement on Behalf of the Arts, here is an example for why he was honored) and about 14 others.
Linda Nochlin won for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement for Writing on Art, something she clearly deserves. A remarkable historian who writes scholarly, yet readably, stylishly; who has an "eye" and confronts important issues. Nochlin thanked her (and my) editor Elizabeth C. Baker of Art in America for helping to make her work well-written. Truthfully, Nochlin is a fine author, but Betsy does demand high standards and improves many a text!
Elizabeth Murray won the artist version, and she greatly deserves that as well. And is, need I note, a painter and another ex-Chicagoan. We are everywhere.
Okwui Enwezor won an award as well. It was pleasing to finally see this much heralded curator in person. The first African to lead Documenta (no. 11; a great improvement over 10, even if he too was a bit "curatorially correct" and a bit light on painting). An amazing man. He thanked a couple of people for helping him to achieve what he has, in particular he singled out Chicago's own Susanne Ghez, referring to her as "indefatigable"!
Finally, the Keynote Address speaker, for whom we were all waiting, was Arthur C. Danto.
Danto is one of the most significant philosophers in the world, the "one to beat" in fact. Fellow philosopher George Dickie, bouncing off the springboard offered in Danto's The Transfiguration of the Commonplace and other works, created the now-called "Danto-Dickie Institutional Theory of Art." Overly-simply stated, this is the theory that what makes something an artwork is that it is embedded (presented, accepted, shown, etc.) within the dominant institution, namely, the artworld. In a highly debased and fashionably expedient form, this dominates the artworld now and has done so for some time. Chiefly as it serves well (albeit in the main when misused) as an inherent justification for much mannerist Neo-Conceptual art. Although Danto's philosophy, particularly his thought-experiment of identical objects, is the principal anchor for this claim, he has himself seemingly had second thoughts about it, while still insisting on the End of Art due the collapse of art into philosophy. (Something I have argued is actually the End of Art History As We Have Known It, and not the End of Art, see my article here.)
He was an excellent speaker. Direct, clear and succinct. Fascinatingly, Danto emphasized another part of his ontological theory of art, that "works of art are embodied meanings." A claim often overlooked in the heat of argument surrounding attempts to subsume the Institutional Theory. Perhaps now is the time to delve deeper into this aspect of his thought. He also mentioned that poet and art critic Raphael Rubinstein (a fan of painting) has claimed that Danto is "the philosopher of art most cited by critics." I suppose this ties him with Derrida, the theorist most cited by curators and professors. It was exciting to me to get to meet Danto personally after the speech, as I myself have often struggled with his work, in print or speeches, making me probably one of those artists who, like those critics to whom Raphael referred, quote Danto. I told Danto this and said I was sorry and would cite him less in the future. He laughed. I gave him one of my viewers, which contain images of my art. He enjoyed it and suggested he would also take pleasure in having a copy of this cartoon I did in an article where I cited and discussed him. I have to remember to send it to him. He is really a grand man and thinker, especially in light of the fact that his theory needs to surmounted and encompassed, not ignored, whatever my misgivings are concerning its unsought after effect.
Brillo Krazy cartoon, Brandl
Arthur C. Danto
Danto's ex-student and my favorite living philosopher David Carrier is successfully grappling with the Institutional theory, I believe.
The Gala Reception
As mentioned, due to the Convocation, we all got to the Museum of Fine Arts late, also having to find our own ways, catch cabs, etc. Nice museum. David Hockney Portraits show, John Singer Sargent murals, beautiful selections from the collection hung salon-style in the munchies area. Good hors d'oeuvres. I met one of my all time favorite ex-Chicagoan artists there --- as well as at several other times and places at the conference --- Buzz Spector. He is a brilliant book and installation artist, founder of Whitewalls, and the original "smart art" creator in the Windy City. Buzz is now the Head of the Art Department at Cornell University. Spector was a shining light as well as a benefactor of mine and of other Chicago artists who wanted to pursue more "intellectual" strains of art, back when that was "not the thing." Thanks for the inspiration Buzz!
The next day, I went early to the session It's All About Process Not only is the title great, but so were the talks. The speakers all discussed the significance of process in artists' work, as a sort of theoretical physicality, or physical theorization, if you will.
In particular, I wanted to hear Janet Koplos. Koplos is another ex-Chicagoan, an art critic and important editor (senior editor at Art in America) and author who began at the New Art Examiner of all places. An intelligent, perceptive woman who can write damn well. She is the author of Contemporary Japanese Sculpture and co-author of an up-coming comprehensive art history of crafts text. Her paper was entitled "The Meaning of Making in Contemporary Crafts." Truthfully, other than listening to and reading Koplos, I seldom think about crafts. Just my little personal blind spot, or perhaps the latent snobbery of a quasi-conceptualist? I couldn't help but relate her thoughts to a more general application of workmanship, as indeed did she herself, to include all art-making. Her views were very stirring. The end of her abstract describes the wider implications of her thoughts on crafts well. "Process is valued in itself, not merely as a means to an end, and its gratifications can be shared by an audience through the visual evidence of the object. ...[C]oncept, process and product are inherently wedded and of equal significance."
I am going to have to start condensing here, as I do get fired up and run on! So --- only a few notes on her thoughts, which I found intellectually thought-provoking, and stirring. Koplos mentioned at the onset "the pernicious effects of theory in criticism." Remember, this is coming from an intellectual and theory-oriented person, not some conservative philistine. She commented astutely that "all important experiences --- whether religious, aesthetic, cognitive or amorous --- are reduced by theory." She cited another author, whose name I did not catch, who said that "we can know more than we can tell." Koplos frequently used the word "workmanship," a term which bears resurrection, even with its somewhat passé inclusion of the word man. It has a colloquial ring to it and avoids the specifically "pottery" overtones of craft or the mechanistic clang of technique. Or maybe we need to think again about proficiency or skill. Koplos also mentioned that we need to "practice touch" --- the need for this is innate and doesn't go away. This touch is, or fosters, an important form of "attentiveness." "Working with the hands," as well as with the mind, "is symbolic protest" nowadays, she feels. Koplos also pointedly reminded everyone of the variety of inherently craft-like metaphors present in recent computer developments, not the least of which is the weaving together of the world-wide web. Finally, I was delighted to rediscover a word she frequently used, vernacular. This more properly describes many of the cultural elements which interest me than the word popular, often used today. Oh pugnacious yet cerebral plebeian antiacademician that I be, he says showily.
Very moving Janet! Look for her soon to be published text.
Meeting Interesting People
At this session, and then again several times later on, I met Ira Goldberg. He is the Executive Director of the legendary Art Students League in New York. Many important artists has studied there, even if or perhaps because it is not a degree-granting institution. In particular, a large number of the first comic artists honed their skills there. It is a unique learning (un-)institution. As it describes itself, "The League was and still is a cooperative society based on mutual help among all its members. There have never been any degrees or diplomas, no set curriculum; one must be there solely for the love and pursuit of art, the yearning for the exchange of artistic ideas and techniques. It is an institution founded by students for students, and these are the major reasons the school has continued to flourish."
Goldberg is an active artist as well as administrator --- and feels that "the time is right for a survey and debate on art education." My impression, if I may paraphrase him from memory, is that he feels most art education nowadays is a failure. Similar to the boring, anti-creative training in 1875 which the League was created to combat, much of what now passes for art education is the self-serving production of fashionable clones of a sect of art pundits. Correct me if I exaggerate, Ira! I must say, these are important, heretical considerations that strike to the heart of our current malaise. Worth considering. Perhaps one thing he means can be stated as the installation/graffiti artist Banksy has, "All artists are willing to suffer for their work. But why are so few prepared to learn to draw."
Shortly after first meeting Goldberg, and participating in a session discussion with him, I finally caught up with my erstwhile hotel-roommate, Raoul Deal, who also sometimes uses his full name of Raoul Greco Deal. Raoul and I were undergraduates in Painting together at the University of Illinois about 28 years ago. He then went off to live for many years in Mexico after having married classical violist Dinorah Marquez. They, with their daughter Gabriella, recently relocated to Milwaukee, where Deal does wonderful installations involving sculpture, painting, and community involvement. He has as much interest in "vernacular" culture as I do, his being generally more Hispanic, but not solely. Deal is one of the best artists I have ever seen or gotten to know, and I am not saying that lightly. With our time together there, and earlier this year when he and his family visited me and mine in Europe, Raoul and I dreamed up a two-person painting-installation exhibition, which we hope to travel. Look for in about two years! (While speaking of wives, mine is Cornelia Kunz, pronounced "Koo-ents" for you English speakers, who are wondering. She is Swiss, a Business Coach, Social Organization Developer, activist and more.)
Roaming about between sessions, I also met Paul Lamarre and Melissa Wolf. They are the creators of an important and compelling video titled The NEA Tapes. Censorship, government support of the arts and propaganda are important subjects and a battleground in an America where most of the so-called "liberal" media is now owned by right-wing backers of George W. Bush. The mass media serves as his propaganda machine and the radical right has its eye on extending their censorship and control beyond even that.
As the Metro Times Detroit has written about this video, "This hour-long offering ... gives a pretty thorough overview of the controversies surrounding the funding of the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA)."
Next came MY Session. However, I will jump over that for the time being to comment on two other sessions I attended, wrapping up with my self-promotional self-description.
I also attended a session with a very promising title: Art History as a Class Act, which unfortunately was not as invigorating as I had hoped. While the participants offered some fine insights, they were four white men, several with "upper class" accents, three with very dry deliveries, one who was enjoyable to listen to. In the hall outside the door, cleaning people (working class people of color) were loudly busy. Their noise lent a weirdly symbolic background to the talk, which even one speaker had to mention. Conference as a class act. Perhaps it was me, perhaps it was because it was a morning at the end of the week, but Raoul felt similarly remote from a discussion of a subject in which we are both interested. Here's a photo of him sketching installation thoughts on the program.
Nevertheless, don't get me wrong. I insist that class is still The Big Hush-Hush in the art world. Not only art history, but the contemporary artworld is a class (-dominated) act. Chicagoans should be clearly aware of this, having always before their eyes the "governance" of the (private) School of the Art Institute of Chic (to quote an Artforum artwork from a few years ago). Anja Meulenbelt, a Dutch Feminist, wrote a book entitled The Layers of an Onion, whose title metaphor has bearing here. She points out that the problem of oppression in society is like three layers of an onion, ones we must peel away, somewhat painfully, one at a time --- making certain to tackle all three. These layers are sexism, racism and classism. I feel that (finally) the artworld is making a few inroads against sexism, but it has barely even begun to mention racism and actively quashes any mention of classism. The next time you are in a group show, ask where all the black and brown artists are. That ought to gather some quick silence around you! Even in the small numbers in which women artists appear, and the infinitesimally small number of artists of color who gain attention, they are overwhelmingly from the upper middle-class or higher, to say nothing of the whites. "Private school graduates who were incapable of doing anything else, so their parents bought them an art degree, where they learned to obey fashionable directives in order to craft a career," as a purposefully unnamed critic once described the situation to me. Let us continue to peel off the sexist layer (with a little more vigor even) and attack the other two immediately, even if we must do it surreptitiously.
Saturday afternoon Raoul and I went to an exceptionally stimulating session. Expatriate Games: The 19th-Century Artist Abroad. From the title alone you could guess it would interest us. Yet not only was the topic itself interesting, but all the speakers and the chairperson's presentations were compelling. Three I will discuss below. The chair was Erica E. Hirshler, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The papers were:
Defining American, Defining Expatriate: The Puzzling National Identities of Sargent, Mora, and Henri, by M. Elizabeth Boone, Humboldt State University
The Filipino as Avant-Garde Artist, by Deborah A. Deacon, Arizona State University
Home Is Where the Heart Is: The Paintings of Henry Ossawa Tanner, an African American Expatriate, by Sharon Pruitt, East Carolina University
Away from Home/at Home in Paris: Americans Reckon with la ville lumière, by Hollis Clayson, Northwestern University
and Edvard Munch's "Germanness" , by Jay A. Clarke, Art Institute of Chicago
The premise of the session, as written in the abstract, was that while the 19th century is often viewed as rather nationalistic in art history, "many painters of this period lived and worked abroad, negotiating foreign languages, art circles, and cultural practices to become successful in countries far from their native home." Furthermore, "this session address[ed] the two-sided engagements with Paris, Madrid, Berlin, and New York experienced by artists from an array of countries."
Sharon Pruitt's paper on Henry Ossawa Tanner offered many insights, based on information concerning his notable parents, facts new to me. This African- American painter definitely deserves far more attention, perhaps this is a beginning. His "internationalism" certainly bears more study. As Pruitt pointed out, did he find a certain level of acceptance, if perhaps as "exotic," as an artist in Paris and Rome that was unavailable to him at the time at home in the US, because he was black? I found Tanner's family life most intriguing. His father was a college-educated teacher and minister, an intellectual, Benjamin Tucker Tanner (1835-1923). He became a Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Bishop Tanner had seven children, the best known of whom is Henry O. Tanner, but his other children did well too. One daughter, Hallie Tanner Johnson, became a physician and established the Nurses' School and Hospital at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, for instance. Henry Tanner's mother, Sarah Miller Tanner was a former slave whose own mother had sent her north to Pittsburgh through the Underground Railroad. Sarah Tanner became a noted teacher. The painter Tanner, like the great jazzman Sidney Bechet and many other black artists, spent the rest of his life in Paris, where he painted some of the finest, large-scale Biblical paintings I have ever seen, until his death in 1937. I also learned from Pruitt that the painter's middle name, Ossawa, is in honor of the martyred white abolitionist John Brown, from the town where Brown first launched his anti-slavery campaign, Ossawatomie, Kansas. Pruitt sees much of the illustrious artist's personality reflected in those of his parent's, from what she has discovered in her research.
All the papers were riveting. I would like, though, to mention in particular two Chicagoans in this session: Hollis Clayson of Northwestern University and Jay A. Clarke, the associate curator of prints and drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago. Clarke's paper was a "deconstruction" in the best sense. She disassembled the (partially self-constructed) myth of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch's "Germanness." Lucid, social, political, yet with sound, direct links to visual fact.
Hollis Clayson was a sparkling, humorous speaker with entertaining rhetorical talents as well as sound scholarship. She should perhaps consider giving public speaking classes to a whole roster of art historians and curators with whom I am acquainted. Her paper, "Away from Home/at Home in Paris" centered on a little-studied group of gaslight night scenes by a variety of American artists in Paris, all "mutilated voluntary aliens," who were "straddling the orbits of bohemianism and cosmopolitanism during a sometimes punishing period of accelerating French anti-Americanism in Paris" (symbolized for the French by the new Edisonian electric lights spreading everywhere). This was also a time in which many Americans began their slow swell of nationalism and disregard for "the rest of the world." I can most assuredly identify with these artists' positions, although the xenophobia and nationalistic, propaganda-swallowing seems nowadays to be more on the part of my "fellow" US citizens and their "freedom fries" than the other way round, as in the period Clayson discusses.
Here are the two erudite Chicago speakers
Jay A. Clarke, left, Hollis Clayson, right
Finally, Our Session
Our session was titled From the Page to the Wall: from Graphic Novels to Gallery Comics. We were lucky enough to be in Prime Time --- Friday afternoon from 2:30 to 5:00. Our chair was Christian P. J.-C. Hill of California State University at Fullerton.
Christian is a professor of art but also a practicing fine and comic artist --- and an invigorating theoretician. He created the term "gallery comics" for work like his and mine. For Hill, a gallery comic (or art-space comic, or Kunsthalle Comic, Museum comic, et al.) is a challenging new form of art lying between book-based sequential comics and the spacial / wall situation of fine art. That is, a sequential, or quasi-sequential work which both can be read like a book and comfortably viewed as a gallery/museum work. I go into my own independently created related term of iconosequentiality in my paper. This is my neologism for the unique combination of forms of phenomenological perception in comics — and my art. Viewers frequently perceive both the entire page as an iconic unit, similar to a traditional painting, and simultaneously follow the flow of narrative or images from panel to panel, left to right, up to down. It is concurrently whole/part and openly linear (even multi-linear with the possibility one has to glance "backwards" and "forwards" if desired, while reading). My notion is thus perhaps a corollary of or an ideal compositional strategy for works of Hill's definition, which could be called a genre or new media form. (Note: Regardless of what is often maintained, new media does not just mean electronic devices. Performance was a decided non-technical new medium in the 70s; installation is probably the most important new medium discovery of Late Modernism and is not necessarily technological. Also, media is the plural of medium, which everyone seems to conveniently forget.) More about that all later.
Hill organized a group of curators, art historians and artists "to address the evolution and interactions" of such art "within the historical, theoretical, cultural, physical and economical dimensions of the gallery" (or Kunsthalle or museum, etc.).
The participants were: First Christian Hill himself, who offered some fine introductory explanations and ideas and a running show of gallery comic images from many artists;
Andrei Molotiu, of the University of Louisville, who spoke on Eternal Ink: Comic Book and Comic Strip Original Art as Aesthetic Object;
Joanna Roche, of California State University Fullerton , speaking on Art Histories of Gallery Comics: What Rake Told Maus;
Michelle Ollie, Managing Director of The Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, who spoke impromptu on her spanking new college for studying comics;
and me, Mark Staff Brandl, of the Universität Zürich and a practicing artist, with my paper on my own work, titled Panels, Covers, and Viewers: My Mongrels of Painting, Installation, and Comics.
Andrei Molotiu is a unique scholar. An art historian and expert on Jean-Honore Fragonard, he is also a curator and a creator of abstract comics. He has a book on Fragonard coming soon from the world renowned Getty Institute.
Here he is as an art historian.
Here he is as an abstract comics artist.
I pointed out in my paper that "comics have always been allographic, as opposed to autographic, to use philosopher Nelson Goodman’s terminology. That is, the actual work of art is located in the published object, not a one-of-a-kind "original" as in painting." Nevertheless, Molotiu accurately pointed out in his discussion that the "original" art pages of comics offer wonderful opportunities for different an unique forms of appreciation on their own. Whereas in the past these drawings were tossed out or even destroyed by the companies after they had been photographed for printing, many collectors and scholars nowadays seek them out, buying them for often large sums. (I myself have a few framed and hung on my walls, such as my Gene Colan works and Al Williamson strip hung next to a Joseph Beuys multiple.) Talking a very enlightening phenomenological approach, Molotiu went step-by-step through the interaction a viewer has with such an original comic page, how one can appreciate not only the intended art values, but also additional discoveries such as the beautiful variety of thick and thin, tapering, brush ink work common to older cartoonists, the thickness of the ink on the board, the "palimpsest of marks that do not show up on the printed page: touches of pro-white and of [non-reproducing] blue pencil, ghostly pentimenti of erased penciling, marginal notations," fingerprints and so on. As he further stated, "these marks reveal the inescapable presence of the artwork and the comics-creating process itself." They are what Molotiu calls the "antilogocentric dimension." They shift the viewer's attention "from the utilitarian aspects of the art to those not so easily consumed by narrative." I must say that I stand happily corrected! I realized, as he spoke, that these are often the elements I have treasured most, and an important part of what lead me to my idea of installation-comics. Thanks Andrei! Molotiu discussed many other related points. Christian Hill says our papers will be printed in a scholarly journal. I certainly hope so, because I would like to have every one else's texts, such as Molotiu's. I was also impressed by his ideas on how to exhibit such works of comic art.
(Yet, Andrei, I won't give up on the historical facts as in our barroom historical discussion. Comics "qua comics" begin with Rodolphe Toepffer. There are logical limits to infinite historical regress and/or historical skepticism! --- or we have to argue it out again in the future. That would be fun!)
Joanna Roche of California State University is also an art historian, but one specializing in Modern and contemporary art. She admirably also states that she's "trying to expand my teaching of contemporary art beyond Europe and the US to many regions of the world where artists are at work: Asia, the Middle East, Latin America...." Roche made the best short definition of Hill's "gallery comics" notion: "A new form of art sharing the structural elements of the classic comic strip, book or graphic novel, but also using the possibilities of and belonging within the conceptual and physical spaces of the gallery, museum or the like." (If I am quoting her correctly from notes and memory.) Her images were wonderful, showing works that were primarily visual, perfect for viewing while walking about a space, and yet ones that demanded "reading" (in it's extended sense). One was a poetic and evocative series of panels of rain and umbrellas. I cannot find the artist's name or the title in my notes. Please write to me and tell me again Joanna! Another was a solo-word-balloon image from Christian Hill which was a tour de force of a gallery comic. I was flattered to see images of my own work turn up in her speech next to artists like Chris Ware, Christa Donner and Charles Burns. I will definitely re-study her paper when I get the CD of the session.
Michelle Ollie of The Center for Cartoon Studies gave a delightful spontaneous discussion of how one can instruct comic art. (She was a late addition to the session, as one planned member dropped out.) She discussed various aspects of curriculum and showed a handful of the shows they require of their students (who must utilize a variety of forms including short strips, books, exhibitions and more.) Even the graphics and drawings in their brochures are exciting (created by famous alternative comic artist Seth). The Center has regular visiting artists of high caliber. This April alone they will have Chris Ware, Seth, and Ivan Brunetti. These artists lecture and work closely with the students. And, have breakfast at the local greasy spoon, The Polka Dot, with students and visitors! There are not many institutions where one can study comics and comic creation, especially of a more "artsy" kind as well as traditional comics, with important creators. So watch this place. They are going to be very important.
And then there's me, Mark Staff Brandl. (Spoiler warning: here comes the self-serving artist part.) I had given my presentation at the Kunsthalle St.Gallen beforehand, in order to address the environment where I live (finally in my mother tongue English --- I usually have to speak in German). It went very well there, but I was amazed at how much smoother it went at the CAA. Perhaps because they are a more inherently intellectual community, or because the audience understood the socio-political implications of a mixed popular / fine art culture. (The audience was predominantly North American, but, from what I could see during the discussion afterwards, also included more than a few Europeans, some South Americans and a Japanese woman.)
Here I am right before the talk.
Brandl at podium
What did I talk about?
Speaking as a practicing "gallery comics" artist, I presented my own work, which is a "mongrel" combination of installation, painting and comics, and discussed it in relationship to the definition of comics (sequentiality, word and image, closure, iconosequentiality, etc.), the influence and confluence of comics and fine art, as well as viewers' relationship to the works from the perspectives of both "high" and "low" art.
Panels are installations wherein large paintings on canvas are surrounded by additional painting directly on the wall, creating huge, readable, sequential "pages" of (an often quite abstract) comic. The term panels refers to the small framed areas in comics, portable easel paintings (a term often used to denigrate painting as obsolete), and the segments of a fresco (one progenitor of comics).
The Covers works are paintings and installations employing the structure of comic-book covers: bold lettering, price, date, numbering, image etc. In them, I revel in the inspirational sources which comprised my initial calling to be an artist, including the billboard sign-painting and display-window decoration of my father, as well as superhero-comic artists. I do not simply appropriate, rather, I engage these forms as an inherited yet incomplete grammar, coaxing it to proclaim celebrations and critical thoughts. This is not fusion or cross-over, but a disjunctive dialogue of arbitration.
Viewers are hand-held slide-show viewers: clickable comics-in-a-toy. These "multiples" are often an integral part of my installations. Here, I use the term to refer to the perceivers, who have divulged varied, contradictory, yet exciting responses to such fine-art-cum-comics. Gallery comics mix various modes of viewing, as well as several art (sub-)cultures.
Finally, for me and similar artists, it was important to discuss how we have developed from comics into fine art, not the reverse, as was true of Pop Art pioneers. We are not slumming. This is my culture, , even if it is perhaps habitually insufficient . It is an inherited vocabulary and "scene of instruction", with strong socio-political dimensions. My work contains a celebration of the remarkable discoveries of comic art, used to enliven currently moribund und mannerist fine art --- thus additionally a critique. Contrarily, it is also a celebration of what the ambition of fine art in form and content can bring to comics ---- therefore a critique once again. A complex and challenging new arena of art.
The entire text notes for the speech are on-line at my website.
One wonderful surprise for me was the appearance of the talented writer and editor Tom Field at my session. While I have known him for a while via internet and a discussion list, I had never met him face to face. Tom has written and published in a plethora of forms, books, magazines, comics, etc. He and I are both adamant fans of the classic comic artist Gene Colan . Field in fact authored a book on Colan, which has just been released --- Secrets in the Shadows: The Art & Life of Gene Colan . The Preface for the book was written by top novelist Glen David Gold, author of the delightful and complex Carter Beats the Devil. I was honored to write the afterward. In addition to the joy of getting to meet him, Tom brought me an un-inked (pencils only), unpublished page of Colan's originally for a Spector comic. It's fabulous and he is a great guy.
The discussion afterward was lively and people continued even beyond the allotted time, forcing the next session to have to push us out! Lots of spot on, well-informed questions and comments. Before we left, I gave out a batch of my viewers/catalogues. Hill certainly organized an notable session, one that will be of assistance to me in the future. I immediately received a slew of business cards and more than 10 offers to have shows, be a visiting artist, give lectures etc. Thank you to all those interested, but most of all Christian Hill for organizing it and inviting me, and my fellow speakers for animating the session.
If you haven't had enough by this point, are an art historian or are a fan of some kind, a CD recording of our session can be purchased for US$ 24.00 at Conference Media.
The conference was finally at an end. Unfortunately. It is always so thrilling to see so many people speaking so eagerly about their own art interests and hungrily devouring the thoughts of others. I suggest going to the CAA conference, for info and inspiration, as well as job searches. It is well worth it. There are a great variety of viewpoints presented, not just the "usual suspects," a plurality of "takes" on art and artworld events. Invigorating.
I left for the flight home. Here are the gates in the Boston airport.
Here is a strangely symbolic sign over a restaurant in the airport. That's "pain" as in French for "bread." So many miles to Chicago, so many miles to Zurich. I need to decide. I'm heading home to Zurich; I'll come visit my ex-home another time.
I can see the mountains.
As a close, I would particularly like to thank the CAA Travel fund, without which I couldn't have afforded the flight. And Pro Helvetia, without which I couldn't have afforded the time off, hotel and more. Pro Helvetia is a bit like a Swiss NEA. They have had a struggle recently, as you may well know, due to a controversy over an exhibition they helped fund wherein a famous Swiss artist insulted the major right-wing populist politician in Switzerland. As a result, the parliament decided to shoot a censorious "warning shot" over the head of the institution, cutting their funding by one million Swiss francs (about US$ 800,000). Whatever one thinks of that politician, that artist, or "scandal seeking" artists or "headline-seeking" politicians, this was juvenile. That's the censorship of the future, using pressure to promote a hoped-for self-censorship. Pro-Helvetia has not given in to this and should be applauded.
Thanks for wading through all of this! Yours truly, Mark