Letters – Volume 32 no. 1 September/October 2017
The Post Office box we rented six months ago will expire at end of July.
Do you want to renew it for Derek? If not, I need to return the keys. You have one and I have one. Can I come by to pick it up next week or do you want to drop it off with Karin or me?
I see you have published a new issue and it looks pretty good. I think the letter by John Link was so extreme and uncalled for. We have never hurled insults at Cornwall.
(UK Editor Responds: Tom, I write to you, an ex-colleague and turncoat. Michael Ramstedt your chairman of your rogue board has said publicly I am mad, vain and left the US to set up a rival magazine. He also lies about the NAE’s past. He is the Chairman, I assume you are a founding member. You and the others plotted and enforced a strategy to steal the New Art Examiner from the Publisher and make a rogue issue to fool the public. You are equivocating. Michael Ramstedt hurled insults at me and my colleague in Cornwall. You are deceitful I played an honest game and continue to do so. Stop avoiding the real issue of betrayal and attempted theft.
Thank you Derek Guthrie for your editorial reminding us ever of yankee myopism in the Chicago artworld. Wasn’t it the “British music invasion” we rightly needed to point the artistic value of U.S. rhythm and blues. US and GB has a long history of validating the points as well as errs in our respective societies. I want to see more of it.
I have been meaning to drop you a line for some time, but things have been extraordinarily busy.
I am feeling the need to do a little late nipping in the bud as on numerous occasions I have been agitated a great deal by your approaches. I have not sent Derek this email out of respect for his age, recent upset and knowledge of past health difficulties, however if you feel it appropriate then by all means forward it. I’m not quite but almost beyond the point of compassion.
Over the years I have found myself being extraordinarily tolerant out of respect for Derek’s stature as an elder, his achievements in the past with NAE and a certain agreement with some of his analysis of the workings of some aspects of the art world. However that in no way overshadows my intense and growing irritations at various presumptions that continue to be made and my belief that he has a huge number of blind spots. I was particularly but not exclusively angered by the recent posting: “…It is very difficult for us to see ourselves as meaningless to others but I would suggest the sight of May not comforting those who have lost everything is exactly the same as the market makers in their dealings with the community” – I assume, deciphering a degree of incoherence, that this in some way refers to ‘Grenfell Towers’? Is there any where off limits for Derek’s self propagation? If this tragedy is going to be used as such, at least have the courtesy of clarifying it clearly. Personally I thinks it is clumsy at best, and I don’t see it at best.
I understand that you have visited the gallery on a couple of occasions in my absence. The usual pushy tone has been adopted in terms of our stocking of NAE and advertising in it with accusations that we have a responsibility to support your magazine and its writers. Tell me – why do we have this responsibility?
On most of your visits Derek never looks at the work on show or makes comment, instead we are greeted with a barrage of diatribe concerning negative analysis of the art world. These negatives are ever growingly cliched, as summed up by the cover of your next issue ‘Death of Damien Hirst at Venice’. What is good I wonder in the contemporary art world? I actually saw a lot of good in Venice, having participated in an event myself, but you don’t seem to be in the business to champion. I wonder if you are connected enough to what is truly going on in the art world to be able to shout about the positive in fact? Perhaps it is merely a degree of ignorance that draws you to these obvious statements?
This observation of ignorance was further enhanced by your recent suggestions that Rose Hilton is the last remnant of the St Ives school. Firstly what is the St Ives school? second was she a part of it anyway (I think not), thirdly if she was a part of it then perhaps it still exists? and lastly if I understand this particular cliche correctly what about my close friend and internationally acknowledged Trevor Bell? There seems to be blind spots in the distance for you as well as under the nose. This is what I mean by ‘stagnation’ – I fear you are up to your knees in it.
On the rare occasion that Derek has commented on certain shows in the past, the response has generally been patronising – i.e. ‘he is trying so hard’. Patronising has always been the strategic position however, I understood this from Derek’s first declaration to me that ‘some people were born great and others have greatness thrust upon them, and you my boy (me) belong to the latter’. Again I come back to the point of championing what is good, with that regard what have you ever done for me or the people I work with? We are gaining recognition far and wide, because we have ‘defined’ something. This has gone unnoticed by yourselves, as has much of the positive in the contemporary art world. In favour of the negative. I reiterate this is ‘stagnation’.
Because I have had to endure years of candour from Derek, I feel it is important for me to offer a little of my own. But first some context defining my approach. In order to amplify my message as a curator and arts venue my aim has been to attempt to do things better than my competition in terms of aesthetics, contemporary relevance, timelessness, emotive quality and cerebral intent. I have addressed all these aspects and believe that our current successes are down to this achievement alongside hard work and determination from the artists that we work with. I have looked closely at your publication and the associated postings and I see either no attempt or ability at being able to claim the same. Posting are often poorly written, spelt incorrectly or incoherent, or as stated above ignorant, misguided and on occasion as cited above offensive. Vitally – aesthetically the publication leaves an enormous amount to be desired. Fair enough you are doing your best with limited resources and I applaud that, but Im sorry you fall way short of competitors and it all counts if you want to be taken seriously in this day and age. I know that is patronising but take the pill that has been offered to me in the past. On the basis of the above why would I accept any of the insistences that have been offered to me in the past, present or future? I am sick of being polite about it.
I was sorry to hear that Derek was manhandled from a gallery, not appropriate at all, but it is an indication of people having enough of the constant negative tone, supported in such a negative way.
I am sure you can see from my response above that I don’t share your journey, and don’t wish to be aligned with your venture. We no longer wish to stock the magazine, will not want to advertise with it, have no desire to be featured and I no longer want my colleagues or I to be drawn in to one sided negative diatribes that are, again, one sidedly heralded as debate.
To refer to your posting concerning the greatest tragedy in the art world. I would add that one of the greatest tragedies is that there are not enough champions or critics prepared to put their neck on the line in declaration of what is good and important – that is what defines our cultural achievements and accomplishments. We live in an art world that is complex but rich, where there is good and bad. All my conversation with Derek over the years has been focussed on what he see’s as the sickness in favour of the cure. The truth is I just don’t think you know what is going on. My own opinion is the good eventually overshadows the bad, but it has to find the streams to flow in rather than stagnate which means looking for those champions if and where they reside. I don’t see that in your corner – you have another war to fight but I fear your guns are a little too rusty.
I wish you well and not malice, but as stated having finally decided to offer my side I leave this debate. If I am engaged again then you know my mind and I will enforce it without any hesitation in the future.
(Ed: The art world lacks candor. We are grateful for yours.)
The article you sent me, “How the New Queer Asian American Criticism Is Shifting the Way We See Art,” has caused me to meditate on my place in the postmodern hell. It is a kind of Catholic exercise in confession as well as a profession of faith: in my case, my faith in beliefs that no longer have any adherents.
The avant-garde sealed its own fate when it destroyed the old beaux-arts system and tied its fortunes to revolutionary notions of progress. Great art demands rules developed over long periods of time through close contact with a refined aristocracy. The avant-garde degenerated into a free-for-all that was doomed to die from its excesses by rebelling against the bourgeoisie while lacking the patronage and restraints of an aristocracy. The current mess should not surprise anyone. As in France during the Terror, the revolution was destined to devour its children. The question is, why were artists drawn into a self-destructive rebellion they did not initiate?
My critique of the avant-garde is not a critique of the works themselves. On the contrary, I believe that modernism could have coexisted with the beaux-arts establishment with the latter supplying traditional skills that could have strengthened modern artists. The tragedy of the avant-garde lies not with the plastic arts but with the adoption of ideologies that were ultimately inimical to the arts and humanities: chief among them was Marxism.
Marxism will be remembered as one of the most savage and destructive forces in history: a philosophy so vile that it poisons everything and everyone it touches. Camus said that art could not be made with hate. I agree. Art cannot be made in a spirit of revolution and change that is itself built on a foundation of resentment and vengeance. Marxism is nothing but resentment and vengeance disguised as the pursuit of truth and justice. Such a lie can never be productive, much less creative. True creativity demands hierarchies of intelligence, insight, and ability. There can be no progress without inequality. The denial of human inequality as a key element in creative advancement forms the core of the Marxist fallacy. That is the reason why the avant-garde had no choice but to die from an overdose on the sofa of postmodernism. It was unsustainable because it had no reason for being beyond the establishment of a hive of human drones under the domination of a Platonic directorate. It was a twisted anomaly that emerged from the French Revolution and the socioeconomic dislocations of the Industrial Revolution. It seduced its practitioners with the false promise of artistic freedom, and for a while it appeared to deliver some form of creative liberty. In the end, however, the avant-garde would pave the way for Soviet Communism, Fascism, and the Marxist-Feminist travesty that dominates American art schools. Postmodernism is nothing more than a deformed child that survived a near abortion at the hands of its already sick progenitors. The child is called Nihilism, and its parents were Karl Marx and the Avant-Garde. Capitalism and the Bourgeoisie were merely witnesses to the horror of its birth. Art historians, critics, and theoreticians served as midwives.
If the freak show of identity politics has taken over the art world, it is only because the avant-garde paved the way. The whole thing sickens me, and I hate myself for my cowardice. I hate myself for having betrayed my principles by playing in the sewage of the Left. I hate myself every time I compromise my beliefs for the sake of harmony in an art world I despise. How can I tell the world that I long for the Ancien Régime? Derek, there is no place for me in today’s world. I don’t belong in any political party or art movement. My views are out of step with the current mania for equality and rights for categories of people that have no bearing on civilization. My values belong to an Enlightenment that would have granted toleration without acceptance while respecting, but not empowering, all classes under the watchful eye of a benign aristocracy.
This is a disgustingly vulgar and inhuman time. We’re dying from egalitarian prosperity. Everyone mourns the existence of poverty. I mourn the lack of class distinctions. How else could we account for Trump? His crime isn’t wealth. His crime is attempting to rise above his station without the breeding necessary to govern. Populists always seem to rise from the lowest social ranks thanks to the vacuum left by a dying aristocracy. The rise of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Boris Johnson, Marine Le Pen, and Bernie Sanders parallel the death of art. Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin were all children of the avant-garde. The Left will never understand this.
Lastly, I am a bourgeois. I know my class, and I know my station in society. I will never be rich by American standards, but I’m unbelievably wealthy by world standards. I lack the breeding necessary for an aristocrat, but in an older system I would risen as an intellectual servant of my superiors. Perhaps I would have joined the Church. I have never believed in equality because I try to be kind and compassionate on an individual basis, and equality is incompatible with kindness. Those who love the people tend to be murderously cruel. I don’t love the people. I cannot love an abstraction. I believe in helping the disadvantaged on an individual basis not as a class. I am incapable of slumming, of pandering to a minority for the sake of massaging my ego. I believe in self-discipline, hard work, discretion, and privacy. I believe in the senses and in empiricism within reason. I respect logic without fetishizing it. I believe in the body as the key to all experience including intellectual and spiritual pleasures: there are no “perfect forms.” There is no thought outside the body. Plato and Descartes were wrong. I love life without fearing death. I find freedom in absurdity, but I am not a nihilist. Such is the context within which I understand the world. Is it right? I don’t know. In any case, I would never impose it on anyone else. I prefer to live like Zarathustra: overcoming myself and no one else.
It thrilled me to learn that the New Art Examiner was again blooming, and that they would like to have me as the acting editor in Chicago.
I started reading the New Art Examiner in the late 80’s during my undergrad years. The magazine became even more impactful to me while working on my MFA and then beginning my career as an artist and photographer. The New Art Examiner separated itself from other art magazines by publishing honest reviews that never kowtow to the art community or worse, their advertisers. As a working artist, I can attest to the importance of a true critical voice with unbiased perspectives Try to remember the last time you read a review that wasn’t glowing; if every review is about how great something is, how will anyone grow?
When I first moved to Chicago, neighborhoods like Wicker Park were full of cheap spaces that a recent grad could rent out and start a gallery. Over time those cheap places have moved into new areas, but Chicago more than many cities has always had the advantage of inexpensive real estate for young galleries to plant their roots. While some of these disappear, others thrive and become major players in the local art scene. Western Exhibitions, for example, started with no home, moving from place to place for each exhibit, is now an established Chicago gallery in a permanent space. This bottom up scene is great for encouraging new and fresh art to emerge.
As a working artist and member of the community I look forward to looking for the good and sometimes the bad in what’s out there. As acting editor of the New Art Examiner in Chicago, I look forward to providing honest and unbiased insights into what’s happening in the city’s art scene, from high-end galleries in the River North to start-up spaces in Bridgeport.
What questions do I ask when looking at work? Does it have a clear vision? Does the technique have a purpose? Is the viewer able to see the work fresh or is it overwhelmed with references to someone else’s work? These are some of the things that are important to me and perspectives that I am excited to share with readers of the New Art Examiner.