Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Rubell Collection's 1980s Period Rooms

Visited the Rubell recently, where I saw a fine Mickalene Thomas in Room 2, from 1997 or so when she first started using patterns in her work, inspired by how Faith Ringgold and Carrie Mae Weems worked from their experiences in their art works.  Rubell Museum Miami

I didn't see how Mickalene Thomas' use of pattern, glitter, and brilliant color, all qualities I value greatly, related so intimately with her childhood until extremely recently. Perhaps that is the unfolding of art over time as bodies of work, affinities, or simply understanding on a deeper level converge and can be seen in one's own work. Above, is Room 9, screenshot from the Rubell website and featuring headlining artists from my graduate school years in the late 1980s, L to R: Meyer Vaisman, Peter Halley, Haim Steinbach and Allan McCollum on the walls, and Jeff Koon vacuums on the floor. These artists, who came of age with the East Village gallery International with Monument, I perceived conceptually without understanding how their work engaged aesthetics as d├ęcor.

Nearby, in Room 13, L to Right: Robert Longo Cindy ShermanLouise Lawler, or Sherrie Levine between, Richard Prince. In the 80s, the gritty, urban use of black + white and found sources seemed irreverent, punk even--informed by nightclubbing, rooftop parties, and a streak of violence that now, comprise an aesthetics of that time, when hyper-vigilance first kicks in. Ngai describes the gimmick as "A compromised form bound to an ambivalent judgment (the split between experience and vigilance -Ed.) that its perception spontaneously elicits, the gimmick is an entirely capitalist aesthetic. In this case both: these once-shocking works might be experienced as nostalgiic, though they maintaining their charge for this viewer.

I remembered so well Allan McCullom's proposal of the frame as a surrogate but forgot the embodied lumpiness of their hand-painted forms. The blank black subjects within the frames, commenting on commodity culture as dispensable, are equally aesthetic with the dualistic split in consciousness Sianne Ngai proposes is informed by late capital in her 2021 book Theory of the Gimmick (thank you Mary Jones): "As a judgment, however, the gimmick contains an extra layer of intersubjectivity: it is what we say when we want to demonstrate that we, unike others implicitly invoked or imagined in the same moment, are not buying into what a capitalist device is promising." Jeff Koons' vacuum cleaners with their bland reframe join the critique, recasting 1950s domestic labor for public contemplation.

Tishan Hsu and Meyer Vaisman. The Hsu has the bland corporate affability of Richard Arstschwager's scultpure while Vaisman's accumulations share territory with LA guru John Baldessari.

An early Peter Halley Conduit back wall, two Koons vacuum cleaners


Very early David Salle, who, like Vaisman and Baldessari, treated the photograph as a readymade, a found image. A suprisingly raw painting, as if unloading the contents of his brain. The first time I saw a Salle was in the Count Panza de Biumo Collection at MoCA Contemporary in 1985. The guttural, deskilled but compelling slashes of brilliant tube color stayed with me as an alternative to rules-bound decorum taught in undergraduate school. Apparently I was not the only person seduced. What makes this painting wonderful is the emptiness and the liquid ground in contrast to the scrubbed or drawn paint.

Men in the Cities! Classic Robert Longo drawings that use a method he continues today in large-scale, operatic commentaries on climate change and politics. Longo joined Salle, Julian Schnabel, and Eric Fischl as the Four Brushmen of the Apocalypse circa 1987. Longo later directed the film Johnny Mmemonic, and shows with Pace.

Richard Prince, working with advertising images and here the NYT, working for and against nostalgia and fair use--so the work never dates. 
The objects at Rubell clarify struggles in consciousness, the curse of self-awareness that implicitly critiques its work. This relates to doubt as pertains to Guston or Cezanne but equally a doubt special to late capitalism, in which everything can be seen as a gimmick. This in turn engenders a traumatic split as explained by Jungian analyst Donad Kalsched in a 2006 interview with Daniela F. Sieff: "The initial moment of psychological dissociation is a miraculous moment in that ... defensive splitting saves the child’s psychological essence in an encapsulated state, but it is also a tragic moment because with this splitting the child steps out of the reality and vivacity of his or her life. It is a moment when the child separates from experience, goes into trance, and when the child’s capacity for genuine and trusting human relationships starts to disintegrate." All of these factors seem to be in play since the epoch of these Rubell Period Rooms.