Thursday, February 9, 2012

fuzzy: flannel and fur

let's talk about a critique that went too far.

i was reading this critique on art practical by mary anne kluth on recent paintings by danny keith at ratio3 in san francisco and i started to think: this is outrageous.  the paintings are kind of interesting.  well-painted.  strange subject matter.  kind of gay.  but kluth's extrapolation is a little over the top.

she starts out with some general observations: "The works are academic in the traditional sense, with particular attention paid to naturalistic lighting and figure proportions. The works’ scale and intense study of a single posed subject, combined with the artist’s layered modulation of color and tonality... suggest that they were made from observation."  good.  then she continues with the beginnings of an interesting suggestion, proposing that the artist offers a personal, alternative vision of beauty and sexual attraction, a unique interpolation between a body both "masculine and pretty."  okay, great.  i buy it.  kluth then makes some general observations about keith's technique and subject matter.
Keith’s use of the same subject, repeated visual patterns, and consistently detailed brushwork throughout this body of work recalls Félix González-Torres’s tender, minimalist installations."  wait, what?  you just lost me.  i had to read this sentence three times to make sure i was missing something.  how exactly are these detailed, natualistic, "academic" paintings like the abstract installations of félix gonzález-torres?  in fact, the critic kluth has to back track at this point, admitting that gonzález-torres was not a painter at all but rather made "metaphorical portraits."  kluth then tries to make a connection between keith's work and the gonzález-torres piece titled perfect lovers, citing formal elements, namely repetition, as connecting and relating the two pieces.  but kluth has failed to realize that most visual art throughout human history employs formal elements of art such as repetition.  just because two pieces of art contain repetitive components does not mean the two pieces are similar or relative.  citing félix gonzález-torres in this review seems more like a gonzález-torres love-fest and less like an honest interest in the paintings by danny keith.

kluth gets lost a little more after this, talking of longing and intimacy, attempting to relate this to color and detail, an interesting idea but irrelevant at this point and i'm not sure kluth can strongly exemplify this in the work.  and finally she writes out this gem, "Keith’s images of male beauty and the palpable vulnerability of his desire complicate the idea that the power involved in every erotic depiction only functions in one direction. His tender attention to every freckle and hair displays a sense of responsibility as opposed to a license to idealize or objectify. "  where did that come from?  why haven't i been reading about power relationships the entire time?  and have we really arrived at the point in history when an artist can pay a lot of attention to naturalistic detail to sidestep the objectification of a person?  like if i make sure not to edit out that blemish i can still objectify women?

if i think back to kluth's original proposition finding a dialectic between masculinity and femininity, "strength" and "prettiness," in daniel keith's paintings, i wonder where that discussion went.  instead of félix gonzález-torres, kluth should have referenced another painter like john currin, or the purportedly homosexual italian painter carvaggio, or the longing and strange attraction in the photographs of robert mapplethorpe.  i think there's a lot that could have been developed, just as from the examples on the art practical site, i believe this exhibit by daniel keith might have a ton of potential.

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