Saturday, September 24, 2016

Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art obtained a "flipped art" piece?

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Katya Kazakina of Bloomberg News has exposed something that looks very corrupt about the art world - 'art flipping'.

If I understand all of this correctly, it seems that some art gallery owners and buyers, along with critics and auction houses, were selecting unknown, young artists and deliberately inflating their reputations so that the value of the artists' work would continually increase every few years when the works of the artist were resold (flipped). 

An initial buyer would purchase for, say, $10,000, flip the work three years later for, say, $50,000 to another flipper, who would then flip up to $100,000 or $300,000 or whatever to an 'end buyer' (perhaps a museum possibly suckered into the scheme). 

All the pieces being flipped were apparently works of abstraction (because, apparently, it is easier to impute great significance to a piece most people would not easily understand or which has no meaning in the first place) and the artists were all very young (they did not have established reputations and so new and exalted reputations could, apparently, be created for them - this apparent scheme would not have worked with 40 or 50 year old artists).

Please read Katya's amazing detective work here:

Now, the apparent scheme seems to be over and the bubble has burst; but, dear Chicagoans, which was one of the major museums to possibly get suckered into this apparent scheme - or at least to display art which, drawing conclusions from the Bloomberg News article, seems to be among recently 'flipped' art?

Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art.

I am not 100% certain that this museum purchased the piece. On a museum blog an image of a work by Hugh Scott-Douglas is shown with this caption: "Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Marshall Field’s by exchange, 2015.5"  Unfortunately, I am not sure what "gift by exchange" means.

Hugh Scott-Douglas is mentioned in Kasakina's article as being one of the artists whose work was being 'flipped', so even if the museum did not pay for this work, should members of Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art be concerned about the aesthetic value of a piece that was, apparently, possibly meant purely to be a financial commodity by art flippers? 

So I guess some big questions would be: Would this artist be so well-known without all the recent art-flipping? A recent work of his had been previously sold for $100,000 and it was resold at auction for a $70,000 loss at $30,000 (due to the bubble bursting on the art flipping process). But, would this artist's work even fetch $30,000 now had it not been for the fame he acquired by having his art flipped in the first place? Can anyone ever see this artist's work outside of the fact that he was a (perhaps unwilling) beneficiary of flipping?

Should the folks who buy memberships be asking how much Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art possibly gave away for what might be called art of questionable merit, that seemed to have its price artificially inflated by apparent corrupters of real or legitimate art?

Should members of this museum be asking the extent to which Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art might be complicit in what truly does look like a very shady scheme which has suddenly gone south?

Personally, I think these are quite legitimate questions.

Maybe Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art can help us poor, unenlightened proletarian viewers by establishing a section dedicated to 'flipped art' as opposed to 'unflipped art' so we can see whether there is any difference.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Steve Moseley - Patience Bottles; Curated by Leonard Cicero at INTUIT (Chicago)

Bourbon is a type of whiskey originating from the American South (made from corn), deriving its name from the Bourbon dynasty in Europe. Steve Moseley has been taking empty Bourbon bottles and creating little religious and socio-political dioramas inside of them. 

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Here we see a child confronting an evangelical minister with the question of whether cavemen had souls or not. Moseley seems interested in presenting the drama of a child asking a type of question she is not supposed to ask, since either a "yes" or"no" from the minister would undermine the entire belief system he has been promoting (If cavemen did have souls, why send Jesus to earth? If they didn't, why would God sacrifice zillions of pre-Christian people to oblivion?).

Actually (exercising my pedanticism here), as a guy who has studied the evolution of religious thought, the religion of hunter-gatherers was 'shamanism', which was not a religion of 'self-development'. It was a religion involving specialized holy men/women who could connect to the spirit realm to gain very practical help for hunting and gathering societies (the curing of illnesses, success in hunting, pain-free birth for the women of the group etc.). The concept of the soul and spiritual development only happens when cities begin to arise and ethics gets tied up with religion. Hunter-gatherers believed/believe their spirits survive death, but they do not believe in souls that will be judged. But, pedanticism aside, Moseley's little drama works fine as a little peek into the religious life of the deep South.

Here is Jesus playing basketball against some demons.

Moseley can be satirizing the extent to which our concept of spiritual development is tied up with notions of competition. If we want to gain salvation we must literally "beat" the devil.

Here Moseley pokes fun at the out-dated values concerning women found in the Bible as Adam tries to hand Eve some dish-washing powder.

This bottle is labeled: If you vote for Trump you will receive no absolution (forgiveness).

Here the Pope is asking Jesus to wear nicer clothes.

So why create these scenes in Bourbon bottles? Well, Moseley is from the South and he could be equating the absurdity in the bottles to the potency of this very Southern liquor. This is part of the culture of the deep, white South and it is absorbed as easily as Bourbon. The scenes definitely are surrogates for the Bourbon.

What is interesting to me is that wine is very symbolic in the Christian religious tradition. When one drinks wine, one becomes becomes more tolerant, loving, social, forgiving; wine was the blood of God that changed us for the better. Jesus was the true vine and one drank wine to remember Him. Bourbon, on the other hand, with its ties to Southern culture and history, seems to be a corrupter of God's true word. It seems to indicate that man cannot live on an alcoholic beverage alone - along with the intoxication one must have a sound intellectual and moral basis in place, or one might be drunk enough to vote for an utter buffoon like Trump, and rightly lose all possibilities for forgiveness.

Close-up of Adam/Eve in the garden

Adam and Eve after eating from the apple:

Your basic evangelical snake-handler:

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

FEEDBACKLOOP - Sandro Kopp at Five Eleven in Chelsea, USA

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In the photorealist tradition painters deliberately began with a photograph as an acknowledgment that the technology of the camera had given us a new layer of reality as legitimate as the traditional layer of reality found through direct individual visual perception. To embrace the photograph as a starting point for a painting was to embrace a mediation of vision meant to enhance a simultaneous awareness of the permanent and transient in the perceivable world; no medium did this as well as photography. The painter renounced a need for a direct encounter with the world because advances in technology did the job better.

Sandro Kopp adds a wrinkle to all of this by painting portraits based on the digital images of people in his Skype conversations. Indeed, one of the series of portraits in the show is of Chuck Close, one of America’s most renowned photorealist painters (probably no coincidence). So we get a realistic painting of a digital image which is meant to be entirely private in nature, therefore departing from the photorealist tradition of using a medium in which the image is, by nature, meant to be shared. 

Yet, we still get a mediation, but it is a mediation of the process of direct interpersonal communication itself. Instead of a direct encounter with Chuck Close, the artist gets a direct encounter with digital images and audio transmissions from Chuck Close. Is this better than Chuck Close himself? How does Skype change interpersonal communication? Does it limit it, enhance it or reveal exactly what interpersonal communication is or can be by trying to replicate it?

The show is called ‘FEEDBACKLOOP’ and a feedback loop is, basically, when you do something, see the result and then your next response is more exaggerated (positively or negatively) as a consequence. So Kopp paints a realistic image of another person during a Skype conversation, then he takes that painting and runs it through a cam again to himself (with a deliberately bad wifi source) and paints another image incorporating the digital distortions. He does this until ultimately the subject becomes completely obscured through large blocks of color due to repetitive distortion – thus the feedback loop is negative in nature, causing a less and less clear image of the subject.

The final abstract image of blots of color for each (famous) person in the series can represent a sort of primordial electronic soup out of which the individual personality/identity arises or can sink back into oblivion. It is a reminder that the digital transmission of these pixels is somehow also transmitting engagement - recognizable humanity with its warmth, passion, sarcasm, envy, empathy, companionship…so then what, if anything, is missing?  Should we be concerned about this form of communication? Inherent in Kopp’s endeavor is a caveat, perhaps, that Skype-like communications may begin to take the place of the real thing and one, consequently, recalls Joyce’s Bloom, who had begun to neglect his own wife Molly in favor of an anonymous erotic correspondence through a personals section in his local newspaper.

Bloom had begun to derive more gratification from the non-physical fantasy life of an anonymous correspondence than from actual physical contact with his own wife. On one level Kopp, who lives in a secluded area of the Scottish highlands and needs Skype to keep in touch with his far flung companions, may be sounding an alarm that Skype seems to be bringing this type of fantasy world or fantasy comfort to its greatest fruition. In Bill Arning’s essay for the show’s booklet, Arning points out, after all, that the porn industry is driving a lot of this Skype-like technology. It could be that Skype is using the real, visceral human to provide, at its best, a cheap form of psychological comfort that nowhere near approximates the range and depth or the effort involved in real, meaningful interpersonal engagement. Perhaps Kopp is saying, “If you are separated from your family, feel the separation, do not avoid that experience through an illusory sense of propinquity through Skype.” Or in general, if you have taken action in the world that involves your separation from meaningful others, embrace the isolation and opportunities of that, which may change you far more than hour-long Skype conversations with those you left.

An overreliance of this type of communication could be just another way to keep us inside, keep us too emotionally safe, too shielded from a sense of loss and longing, unengaged and cyber-bound instead of actively exploring and changing the world through direct experience and the risks of life. More than anything, perhaps Kopp warns us that Skype-like communication exists to save us from the isolation which we may very much need to develop any complexity, humanity or depth in our lives.

Along with Kopp’s paintings one hears a soundtrack by Simon Fisher Turner of Kopp engaged in painting. Hearing Kopp’s brushstrokes or other sounds of the painting process is comparable to seeing the pixels on the canvases - these are the individual audio-atomic elements that go into the deception of art as readily as the pixels go into the deception of Skype. Architect Alberto E. Alfonso has also configured the show with each lamella painting pivoting toward the viewer who moves through the loop of the space.

Sandro Kopp
12 December 2015 – 06 February 2016
511 W. 27th Street
New York, NY 10010

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Democracy - What's right? What's left? Phoenix Gallery, Chelsea

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As the de facto (although unsolicited) policeman of the world, the government of the USA likes to promote its values and encourage democracy.  Yet, is the USA, itself, even a democracy? Frankly, no. For proof we can simply look at the House of Representatives (the part of the US Congress that is supposed to represent the people while the Senate represents individual states).  80% of these Congressmen are white (only 62% of Americans are white); 80% are male (only 49% of the USA is male). White men, by the way, only constitute 31% of the US population. 92% of the entire Congress is Christian (72% of Americans are Christian) and 40% of House representatives are lawyers (as opposed to 6% in the entire USA). Therefore, if you are a white, male, Christian lawyer, your Congressman will return your email or phone call. You are the guy whose experience is represented in the USA.

This system producing white, male, Christian lawyers, who control the government of the people, is partly the result of the fact that the number of Congressmen is set at 435. So as the population rises, each Congressman represents more people. Right now each Congressman represents about 700,000 people. The cities of Detroit, Seattle and Denver, for example, have fewer than 700,000 people – so this is not real representation. When one representative covers so many voters, the representatives of the dominant culture will find it easier to dominate the Congress. If you take any random chunk of 700,000 people in America, with America being 62% white, a simple majority of voters will probably be white and elect white people. The existence of minority folks in Congress may only be due to the fact that America is a very racially divided country with African American, Latino and Asian folks often segregated into their own large areas of cities.

So ironically, it is probably urban racism that even allows for any representation of people of color in Congress. That we have white, male, Christian lawyers running things also has to do with the need for money to become a Congressman. The corrupt career politician who represents me in Queens, New York City (he is a white, male, Christian, but is a non-lawyer) seems to generate about $2 million every two years for his election campaign. He is so powerful, however, that nobody ever dares run against him. Yep, I am lucky enough to have a Prince or Duke representing me, apparently. No need for competition. So if nobody ever runs against him, where does the $2 million from his corporate sponsors go? Welcome to America, the land of opportunity.

I mention all this because I saw an amazing show curated by Gutfreund Cornett Art, which is “a curatorial partnership which specializes in creating exhibitions in venues around the U.S. on themes of ‘art as activism’ to stimulate dialog, raise consciousness and create social change.” The show I saw at the Phoenix Gallery at the 548 W. 28th street building in Chelsea was called “What’s Right, What’s Left: Democracy in America” and was juried by Dr. Kathy Battista. It contained pieces in the gallery by 21 different artists along with a slideshow feature of several more amazing works that could not be fit into the gallery. Since I cannot touch on all the great pieces in this show, the link to the online catalogue is below. Click on the link and scroll down until you see ‘catalogue’. You should take a look at everything.

Among the pieces actually at Phoenix, Nic Abramson and Justyne Fischer deal with the chronic police abuse to which African Americans in the USA have been subjected and which has caused numerous protests recently around the country. Abramson wants to focus on what “Black Lives Matter” means to most people and perhaps what it should mean. It is not a matter of just stopping the police from routinely shooting black men under various pretexts, it should mean a reorientation in which the inequality embedded into the system, causing huge prison populations of black men and continued black poverty, is eliminated.  I am convinced that racism comes from the top down, and when you have a Congress dominated by white males, police abuse against black folks will definitely follow.  Fischer focuses more precisely on the case of Eric Garner, the black man who was killed by several police (all exonerated of his murder) because he was selling cigarettes publicly in NY City.  She has created a social memorial to highlight the tragic absurdity of this man’s death, a death made possible by a miasma of racism that permeates American cities.

Ransom Ashley and Victoria Helena Mihatovic both focus on the Occupy movement, Ashley showing one of the reasons New York City’s billionaire mayor was so eager to break up this peaceful gathering at a public park: the man holds a sign advocating love and not greed. Mihatovic presents a spent canister of tear gas that was shot at the protesters in Oakland in a display case usually used to display autographed baseballs – perhaps equating  America’s past-time to a prevalent American apathy while challenging this apathy at the same time with a symbol of violence against questioning youth in the USA.

Michael D’Antuono’s piece highlights the fact that the National Rifle Association is able to ensure that Congress takes action in opposition to the will of 90% of the American people. Cat Del Buono highlights the callousness of the media and male politicians toward issues of rape and reproductive rights. Lindsay Garcia references the Hudson River School and Robert Smithson to focus on how politics in America has led to environmental devastation. Monika Malewska presents disturbing images of prisoners (alleged terrorists I am guessing) in stress postures to illustrate how horrific situations can be justified through appeals to ‘democracy’ and how images can desensitize us to the true horror behind them as they are presented  by dominant news outlets. Gina Randazzo highlights the fact that women only hold 19.4% of the seats in Congress and focuses on the apparent lies that are told to young women in the USA about equality of opportunity.

Sinan Revell’s series DoppelgANGER involves two views of the artist representing how we become divided from each other through economics and social class in the USA. Kate Negri presents two of the white, male, Christian lawyers who run the USA engaged in a passionate kiss on a pedestal. The pedestal represents the separation of the politicians from the people while the kiss might represent the need for politicians to ‘kiss and make up’. Eike Waltz shows the symbols of the two American political parties copulating, indicating that they are, basically, in complicity with each other in the debasement of true democracy. Dan Tague’s piece implies that virtually every politician can be bought and that it is money and not the will of the people that drives our law-makers.  Laura Sussman-Randall uses charcoal, pastel and carbon to create a torn American flag, the coarse materials adding a sense of anger over ‘greed, obstructionism and prejudice’. The torn flag represents how torn apart we, as a country, are.

Emily Greenberg deals with the issue of government surveillance through a simple old fashioned telephone (which was much safer than the internet or our cell phones). You pick up the phone and hear how easily the government can collect data on you and violate your privacy so readily through your cell and laptop. In a similar vein, Nick Hugh Schmidt actually just leaves his smartphone in the gallery for anyone to access. The horror we feel at the thought of doing this with our own phones highlights just how much and how deeply our privacy can be violated by our government. Shreepad Joglekar created a video involving a man carrying another through a desert to highlight the difficulties that even legal immigrants face in the USA. 

Shawna Gibbs uses an image from a gay pride parade in San Francisco from 2003 to demonstrate the progress that has been made in regard to gay rights through hard lobbying efforts over a very long period of time. Ruthann Godollei focuses on our new reliance on drone strikes, which has become quite popular for our Nobel Prize winning president, and Godellei mentions in her statement that to the folks who operate drones, ‘perhaps everyone looks like the enemy.’ Gracie Guerro-Bustini pays homage to the 19 Democratic Congressmen who protested the abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli soldiers in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. Finally, Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch used tampon applicators to create a model of an AK-47 rifle (feminine protection – get it?) to protest the proliferation of weapons and to “Stop the FLOW of violence!”

Again, I cannot do justice to all the amazing works in this show with one review (as much as I want to) so please check out the catalogue by clicking the link below (it has the works from the gallery as well as the slideshow works – some really amazing pieces). Kudos to Gutfreund and Cornett for putting all this together.

To contact Gutfreund and Cornett to purchase works or for any type of collaboration:

Friday, January 29, 2016

Wheiza Kim at Gallery d'Arte (Transcendence and the Möbius Strip)

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“My intention is to decipher the message of the universe delivered by the wind which has been engraved in wood grains like some secret codes, and then visualize it.” Wheiza Kim

In the transcendentalist tradition of landscape painting, it was believed that the mind should not be considered to be separate from nature, and those painters attempted to create art showing or even inviting a union between the mind and nature. Science and its method seemed to call for a division and the union sought was, therefore, not mediated through the intellect, which allowed for the desecration and exploitation of the natural. Yet, we cannot deny the effect that our experiences and knowledge of nature have on us when we attempt to feel what the transcendentalists have always promised. When Walt Whitman wrote about abandoning the lecture of the learned astronomer in favor of gliding out into the “mystical moist air” and looking up “in perfect silence at the stars,” was nature going to silently infuse him with an awareness divorced from previous experience and knowledge or was his experience of the sublime going to be brought about through what he knew or wished to know about the world in the presence of the world?

Some interesting little boxes created by Wheiza Kim at Suechung Koh’s Gallery d’Arte can be considered a response to these questions. Over various landscapes she has the painted grids or lattices of windows, which are partly open, having lifted that segment of the landscape higher than its adjoining parts, creating a void. Looking into the void one sees a little area inhabited by figures reflected back to one through a mirror. So what does it mean to have a window that can be opened in these landscapes? What is that window, where does it come from, what does it reveal?

Kim, herself, told me she would like to offer the concept of a Möbius strip – that type of long strip which you slightly turn and attach end to end so that if an ant were to begin crawling on the strip it would cover both the front and back side in a theoretically endless loop of a journey. To me the windows opening the perceivable screen of nature might represent our discoveries and insights into nature through cognition and experience – ranging anywhere from the insights of Spinoza to the insights of Schopenhauer - and this means that in our attempt to get the message of the universe, the underlying essence of the world, we are directed back into a greater exploration of our own cognition, motivation, desire and emotion.  We enter a type of Möbius strip process taking us outside and inside and back again, perpetually.

Kim explained that according to Zen masters, to attain a peaceful state, your mind has to be like a mirror, otherwise the mind becomes susceptible to a type of ‘attachment’ thinking or desire, which leads to emotional agony. Along with the little figures one also sees one’s own reflection through the open window, thus becoming a part of the piece of art. To Merleau-Ponty a subject looking at himself in a mirror experiences a ‘troubled form’ of self-knowledge in that he/she perceives him/herself from the perspective of the other and realizes the form of socializing coercive force used and sometimes embraced by the individual instead of a type of inner change and development which engenders its own momentum through self-observation. Schopenhauer believed the intellect to be a mirror to the ‘will’ allowing one’s will, itself, to move toward a greater sense of self-denial.  To me, the mirror in these pieces by Kim questions the extent to which the external mirror of troubled identity or the inner mirror of cognition motivates self-development and change and to what extent change through the external mirror may actually be possible as well as the capacity of the will or aggression to ‘recognize’ itself and initiate its own change merely based on recognition of itself.

Among other pieces in the show are those in which Kim works with the natural grain of the wood to create landscape-like images.  These pieces are often made to look like traditional Asian folding screens where mirrors stand in place of the hinges. Other works explore the symbolism of the triangle in relation to stupas, yoga and urban life. The triangle, of course, is one of the oldest symbols and may have taken its form as an abstraction of a mountain. In ancient times mountains were sacred areas and the higher you climbed, the farther you distanced yourself from the effects of others and the closer you approached the spirit realm. In Sumeria the upward pointed triangle represented ‘the masculine’ or an active principle of desire seeking its conjunction with the fulfillment of the feminine.

The triangle is, in itself, a little allegory (beginning, middle, end) encompassing the transience of movement or time with the permanence of change. In the inner core of these triangle pieces are three mirrors which create complex visual patterns, the mirrors representing the minds of three people – the very basic number of people, for instance, in computerized game theory experiments to approximate a basic social unit.

The show closed on Tuesday January 26th, but Suechung Koh can be reached at if you have any questions about viewing or purchasing Kim’s work, more of which will be on display soon in LA.   

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Li Hongbo at Klein Sun Gallery - Overreliance on the Word

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In his current show at Klein Sun Gallery, Li Hongbo calls our attention to the overwhelmingly textual basis of the world-wide globalized educational system, along with the numerous problems that come along with education systems so dependent on the written word and so lacking in meaningfully experiential components.

Li has several sculptures of placid, expressionless students carved out of stacks of cheap textbooks and workbooks. This seems to lead directly into the question of how the continual engagement with the written word, through education, translates into the behavior and self-development of each person. The best answer to this question would seem to come from Phillip W. Jackson’s concept of ‘the hidden curriculum’. In his book “Life in Classrooms” (1968) Jackson pointed out that when you take active, young bodies and restrict them behind desks for 6 or 7 hours a day, presenting them with written texts about history, science, math etc. , for which they will be rewarded for correct answers and punished for wrong answers, the students may pick up the history, science and math, but the most enduring concept they learn is ‘passivity works’ - obedience to authority figures is the way to go. Along with the knowledge that we pick up in school, in the very process of acquiring this knowledge we are also subjected to hidden values that breed passivity.

Of course, the contents of our text books are often problematic as well. Jean Anyon did a landmark study of US History textbooks in the classrooms of working class American students. She discovered that in regard to the history of labor unions, only those unions which had collaborated subserviently with management were included in the texts.  The unions which took defiant stances and actively fought for the rights of workers were simply not mentioned. Anyon concluded that working class students were being sent the message – Do not protest! Collaborate! Work with your superiors! Working with your betters is always the right way to go!

We see nonsense all throughout our text books and especially our history textbooks.  The first European settlers to North America, at Roanoke, probably joined a Native American tribe but this is not reported because ‘integration’ is supposed to go the other way – people of color integrate into white, industrialized societies; white people do not ’regress’ into ‘savage’ cultures. And, of course, the biggest lie your US history book ever told was about the great president Abraham Lincoln who actively sought war with the South, thus causing the deaths of over 600,000 men, instead of seeking creative and peaceful solutions to the problem of slavery.  That the Civil War was fought to end slavery is a lie as well since there was no plan to help the freed black folks after slavery and they became powerless and dirt poor share croppers, while northern carpet-baggers flooded the South afterwards to turn insane profits (the real reason for the war).

The huge binders crisscrossing the show, to me, represent the crippling and oppressive effects of the grading system, which is the Charybdis to the Scylla of the textbook. To grade students is to degrade students. The only justification ever given for grading is that it supposedly helps to ensure motivation, which, obviously, points to the fact that force has to be used to get children to learn what others want them to learn. A system without grading would be a system of freedom and self-discovery and the realization of full human potential. We do not have a humane system of education where students are free to pursue the most meaningful and existential threads through self-discovery, we have state approved text books and a grading system to weed out who cooperates and who does not.

On the floor of the gallery a pathway is established by books and this seems to imply progress. Yet, more realistically, it signifies the limited course that formal education is. It is a process leading in a specific direction established by others to guide entire generations in specific directions.   

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Jack Stuppin at ACA Galleries: Homage to the Hudson River School

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When English painter Thomas Cole came to the US in the early 1800s, he began painting landscapes from the Hudson River Valley, attempting to capture and convey what Edmund Burke had called the sublime.  To Burke, the sublime was astonishment bordering on terror.  “The mind is so entirely filled with its object that it cannot entertain any other, nor reason on that object which fills it.” Burke also dealt with the beautiful, which was distinguished from the sublime by the capacity of the beautiful to engender a desire to possess what was being viewed.

One could argue that the environmental devastation since the time of the Hudson River School was due to a rejection of the sublime in favor of mathematical analysis and technological profiteering along with a perversion of the beautiful toward the possession of the exploitable. By revisiting the Hudson River School movement in his show “Homage to the Hudson River School”, Stuppin, therefore, revisits these two concepts in light of the development of science and technology and the ravaging of the environment for profit. He also, perhaps, questions the extent to which anyone should have bought into either extreme of transcendence or technological exploitation in regard to the American natural environment.

Stuppin uses super-enriched colors for his paintings. Sometimes the colors correspond somewhat to the colors we would expect objects to be, other times they do not. He takes the basic colors of nature, enhances them with a type of luminescence, and sometimes shuffles the colors somewhat so that, for instance, you get blue trees. Charles Burchfield admonished American landscape painters not to paint what they saw, but to paint the hidden, real presence of nature and, consequently, one might guess that these brilliant colors could be thought to reflect the élan vital we seem to sense when we engage nature on its own terms, free of cognitive and emotional baggage.

However, it could be that Stuppin points at those aspects of nature that engendered the transcendentalist tradition and hints at what gives nature its capacity to arrest and overwhelm us and con us, frankly, into believing in an élan vital. We get an awareness of our acceptance of the ancient belief in transcendence and union with nature, which has still not been destroyed through science, but which modern science seems to have refuted.  In the paintings this élan vital, therefore, is not necessarily to be believed but becomes the starting point for us to become more aware of the limits of our cognition and emotion when contemplating or experiencing nature without the aid of science.

Along with brilliant colors, Stuppin also seems to present what might be called a natural world of averages. For example, I noticed in one painting that he does not have realistically depicted small, medium and large waves or waves of many shapes and sizes vis-à-vis each other; he shuns realistic, individual depictions in favor of rolling rhythmic patterns – his waves, for instance, are basically waves you might get if you took the average size of waves in one area. We learned in the early 20th century that observation changes the thing observed and so we get objects represented by averages instead of individually depicted objects.  They are stylized waves imitating and perhaps replicating each other, perhaps intimating the concept of infinity.

Perhaps Stuppin wants to say that when we artistically depict and interpret an experience of nature, without applying any incisive background knowledge of nature to it, with viewers just standing in the presence of the depiction of nature, we are being engaged, basically, by colors and forms, no more, no less. What do we really hope to get from the colors and forms of landscapes? How might it be possible for these colors and forms to even imply a mystical or emotionally moving concept? In the direct presence of nature, colors and forms combine with our previous experiences of the textures of nature – how stone, wood, water etc. feel – as well as sound and smell.  But is this even enough to derive that something extra, that deeper knowledge or understanding that nature seems to promise us through our contemplation of it, but which may never be disclosed? 

Therefore, Stuppin might be asking whether the transcendental ‘union’ promised through much landscape art from the past is possible. Is the mind separate from nature or is it such a part of nature that it allows a deep intuition of the essence of nature? Stuppin’s work might be saying that what we experience when we engage nature is not nature but the emotions created when we desire to understand but have insufficient tools to do so – neither intuition nor science gets us to the Faustian place we wish to go. 

Intuition from an experience in a state of nature leads to mysticism, ritual or mythology, while science leads to the physical destruction of the environment. Yet, this middle ground we want between intuition and science becomes the palpable inability to grasp what we believe is possible to grasp and it becomes a grand experience in itself. The great mystery of landscape painting illustrated through the work of Stuppin is that Burke was right – in the presence of nature we are often overcome by an intense but difficult to describe emotion which subsumes everything else we might feel. It is joyous and painful and goads us to further and deeper experiences while leading to a lingering and obscure longing. Just what we are getting when we give ourselves over to that process is brilliantly and seductively represented by these perfectly executed works by Jack Stuppin.