Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tat Ito

Last night I attended the opening of Tat Ito's show with Hiro Kurata at Joshua Liner gallery in Chelsea. I've been a huge fan of Tat Ito's work since he was at NYAA, and am honored to know him.

"Kagutsuchi" 2009 24 h x 48 h x 1 3/8 d Acrylic and silver leaf on canvas

His work fits into the Superflat constellation of Westernized Japanese art whose center of gravity is Murakami and his Kaikai Kiki corporation, for whom Tat worked for a time. Accordingly Tat Ito sees Japanese artists' adaptations of Western culture, which Occidentals love or orientalize, as a miniscus, or thin layer of oil on the water of Japanese culture. The beauty is in the surfaceness - aptly, the analogy flattens as well, for the paintings are themselves thin layers of colorful oil, often with metal leaf.

“Pledge at Amé no Mihashira” 2009, Dimension: 30 h x 30 h x 1 3/8 d inch, Medium: Acrylic and Silver leaf on canvas

I adore artists who make narrative paintings without a single focus, pattern without exact repetition. Tat's oil paintings are combinations of abstract spatial elements and tiny figures. The sameness of the figures has been increasing but the sense of variety and directionality, particularly through use of minimal linear and orthographic perspective, is still there. The multitudes never feel like singular mobs, and the narrative directs distant viewings of traditional myths.

Zombies, the undead metameme.

“Izanaki and Izanami reunite” 2009, Dimension: 24 h x 20 w x 1 3/8 d inch, Medium: Acrylic and Silver leaf on canvas

I'm really looking forward to seeing what more Ito makes.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


          This is going to be the first less-thought-out post for a while, because I woke up thinking about some things and I want to get into better practice writing. A lot of this is going to sound like fundamental, stupid cultural critique.
          Neil announced spontaneously that his political goal was to allow people to live like I do. I thought he meant "lazy and making useless objects", although what he meant was "female with sexual freedom". I want to look at the first assumption I made. Both of them have to do with an idea of decadence as ends. They set up some lifestyle, or some thing, as the privileged creator of value in anyone's labor. There are simultaneously several of these going on right now, and while these directions are usually referred to as political philosophies ending in -archy, I wouldn't say that the decadent position necessarily rules.
          One structure in society is that in which most of society works for the sake of an aristocracy. This still exists wherever we appeal to the super-rich, those who are above the wealth level at which it is impossible to lose money. Many of the super-rich, in turn, choose to serve objects - or, at least, this was one simplification of the art market I came up with. Really it's just a very complicated kind of self-fulfilling investment, a free-floating historical luxury. For 100 years, people have continued to make paintings and sculptures not because the aesthetics itself has value but because the art market was based on investing in things that were historically important and turned into investing into things that might become historically important - from whatever era. Since the 60s, that market has become more and more about investing in the first appearances of things that went on to change consumer culture, and demonstrations of the perverse nuances of liquid value. Nothing invests an otherwise useless object with value more than political relevance, though that becomes a modernist competition between "timelessness" and "timeliness". This has continued, but since the 90s there have also been more and more throwbacks and celebrations of arcane training for reasons beyond understanding times before mechanical reproduction. There has also been a huge emphasis on socially involved, scientifically groundbreaking, and environmentally prescient art. I've considered it one of my missions to bridge these directions, so far with little success, although arguably popular media already do this.
          Of course, the humanist answer to who we're all working for is each other - every person, essentially equally, with the most major battles involving the definition of personhood. And the socially democratic form of humanism is to say that the government's ends, those it makes sure live comfortably, are, firstly, the disabled or sick, but in stronger forms, anyone who, through whatever social and economic dynamics, suffer. If we denote this by income, we create a majority privileged class with a range of internal contradictions. It seems that most recipients of charity may suffer from being denoted as such, while another (easily despised) class of the downwardly mobile (amongst whom I count myself) who have internalized the socialist valuation and consider poverty a new aristocracy. In some formulations, this is simply the feminine position. You can tell I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand, I feel we cannot have too much arts funding and incentives towards a well-educated (and not cripplingly indebted) working class. On the other hand, as someone who is able to live comfortably with time, freedom, and resources to just create what I want to, I can say it's not particularly fulfilling, and I'm incredibly annoyed by the "art for art's sake" ideology. Perhaps I simply resent sharing a category with self-important ugliness.
          Because it is particularly maligned in American culture, I do feel I need to endorse distributed decadence, a kind of universal right to leisure. And in saying so, I'm admitting that leisure includes creativity, not just consumption of increasingly freely available art. The hobbyist is heavily maligned in art, but at this point all a hobbyist is is someone who doesn't want to bother with self-promotion. Many artists who do self-promote still resemble hobbyists in their ignorance of what the art market is. Many of these artists have been formally trained or even gone to college in the field, but avoided exposure to "theory" that would give them a rather disheartening perspective on where the value of their work comes from. When these people also reject commercial pursuits in illustration, design, and other decouplings of value from presence, they've trapped themselves between ideologies the same way the underpaid masses have.
          In neither case is the situation willful, but more likely a natural outgrowth of abundance. The difference is that one is in an economy of money, and the other in an economy of attention. These economies are not distinct, but increasingly wealth is created from attention alone, and art has been the testing ground for the exchange.
          The humanist teleology may not even be the most ethical - in fact, ethicality as an ends is itself a choice. While dangerous non-humanisms abound, there are viable utopian replacements for the aristocracy that include creating inorganic sentience, maximizing information, maintaining sustainability, minimizing suffering for anything that feels pain (anaesthetized meat, anyone?), and maximizing self-esteem or meaninful activity (which is one argument for the free market). And, of course, there's the most difficult to judge, the direction of most good art, with a corollary of that art actually getting attention. Only the most radical versions of any of these cannot exist alongside the others. My utopian direction is that all these ends work at once, and that the weaker or less popular ones be supported by our attention, or even our inaction.