viernes, 7 de junio de 2024

How Hernan Bas pokes fun at conceptualism

Conceptual artist #20, (performance-based acting as his own receiver, he's seeking a signal from the airwaves for over a decade), 2023.


Hernan Bas's show, The Conceptualists at the Bass Museum of Art, is an exciting spectacle.
Conceptual art

Conceptual Art refers to various artistic practices from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, emphasizing the concept (or idea) instead of the physical art object. Since conceptual artists are considered art theorists, we need to unpack the theory.  
A reference theory of meaning ... claims that the meaning of a word or expression lies in what it points out in the world. 

However, for this reference to become art, we need this "pointing out" to become aesthetic. Then, one can say: 

Art is the concept behind it. 

This is shown here in a rather direct and crude manner (chair, photo of the chair, and explanation appear as a whole). Let's call this a first-order reference. 

"Chair" (the thing + the thing's photo + the explanation) is the art/concept.

Conceptual art comes in different flavors. Bas uses a second-order reference flavor. He presents the art/concept (first-order reference) and subverts it by folding it.  

How? Make it bounce onto itself. 
The folding

In The Conceptualists, the protagonist and his alter ego undergo a series of "conceptual tasks," which appear banal and purposeless. According to plan, this conceptual maneuver loops onto itself, pointing to its ultimate world referent: the artist, Bas himself.  

The folding happens via the painting's title. 

Above, you see a painting minus its title. Boxing is reduced to pillow fighting. The reference to the world is already there. But without the title, there's no reference folded back onto itself. 

We need some context. 

Czech theorist Jan Mukařovský has an interesting thesis. What we take as "banal" remains a suspect choice precisely because of its preassumed hierarchy. Mukařovský counsels looking at neglected things differently, that is, as (potential) redeeming notes, legitimate subjects of aesthetic investigation. 

Use these glasses to look at Bas' show. 

Conceptual artist #36 (his site-specific wall drawings are created after a night's sleep in purportedly haunted locations), 2023

Let's take the painting above. The artist breaks from working on a crayon drawing on the wall (a bit of trompe l'oeil adds a certain je ne sais quoi). For now, observe how title and painting do not necessarily coalesce. They perform a conceptual dance. 

It's daytime (the semi-opened window proves it). The artist sits, hands dirty, on a disheveled bed. The reddish drawings are glued to the wall underneath the superimposition of the crayon drawing. He looks outside the painting (the painter? or the observer?). Nah. He's self-absorbed. 

According to the title, does he just have this thing of doing site-specific art in purportedly haunted locations? Weird. 

Keep in mind Mukarovsky (things are not what they seem). 

Radical distancing

Here comes Ortega Gasset's lesson in The Dehumanization of Art:

The creators of new art give their works a dehumanized aesthetic by radically distancing themselves from the "lived" reality ... their daily existence (objects, spaces, living beings, inorganic beings): it is this radical distance in the gaze that allows them to make the leap from the "lived" reality to the "contemplated" reality.

What's the radical distance

In phenomenology, "distance" means a lack of presence. From the perspective of conceptual art, one could retort that a lack of presence presupposes presence. Using Ortega's favorite metaphor, missing the trees from the forest presupposes the former. 

The retort from conceptual art: what if presence is absent? One can see a tree and yet miss it altogether. 
We need conceptual glasses. 

Conceptual art comes in different flavors.  

Conceptual artist #18 (spirited for urban legends, he fabricates roadside memorials from which to hitchhike), 2023

Bas's painting title (above) suggests the hitchhiker standing at a "fabricated" memorial. Is this young man really hitchhiking or—judging his demeanor—"posing," as it were? It looks too perfect: the trees, the clean, well-paved, sinuous road—is it really raining? 

The more one looks, the more open-ended everything seems. This conceptual maneuver is richer (and more fun) than Kosuth's late 1960s modus operandi. Bas' maneuver is so sleek and slippery that, in the end, one (after much cerebration) accepts the insoluble dissonance of conceptual back and forth. 

Conceptual artist #24, (his multidisciplinary works are cultivated from the periodic table), 2023

Doesn't Conceptual artist #24 folded-on-self mise-en-scène seem obvious? 

The artist's (Bas') empty performance fulfills itself by automatically emptying itselfwhat Ortega calls dehumanized, "contemplated" reality. 

His conceptual artist #28 recalls a passage from Fin de siecle French in literature and sensibility, 

Falling for the conceptual trap 😂

Someone by the name of Douglas Markowitz covered the show for The Miami New Times

Here's a paragraph: 

Every piece in "The Conceptualists" engages in the melodramatic yet ridiculously unserious artistic discipline that one usually sees in parodies of the art world like The Square or Velvet Buzzsaw. They all look somewhat alike, all possessing the same slim, androgynous build and gaunt complexion that has become a hallmark of Bas' paintings. Obvious craftsmanship and attention to detail aside, the series presents something rare in contemporary art: classically inclined, representational work meant to be purely funny.  

Let's see: 

1. Every piece?  

2. Melodramatic yet ridiculously unserious artistic discipline. 

3. Classically inclined, representational work meant to be purely funny.

Markowitz, leaving these puerile reductive concoctions aside, what are you talking about? 

Conceptual artist #21 (his formative work, "Prom Night," marked the beginning of a career of works based on acts of disappointment), 2023

Doing the dirty work

Here's a photo of Bas in his studio (via The New Times). It looks like he's actually "doing" the dirty work of painting faces, hands, flowers, balloons, etc. Not outsourcing it! 

Bas's art has grown technically and conceptually. He is not in 1894, amidst the apotheosis of nineteenth-century l'art pour l'art (Oscar Wilde still walking down Tite Street in Chelsea, sane and free). Stoically (decadents are stoic),  he adapts to our dull postmodern reality. 

The themes of the early 2000s reappear, but Bas' self-referential mal du Siecle appears filtered by a skillful—if florid at times—self-parody. His alter ego is now protean, witty, and less obviously effeminate.


Conceptual artist #3 (chewing gum every working hour of the day, he considers "Bubblegum Alley" his archive)

Lastly, Bas' paintings would not work without his titling style. Take the painting above as an example: We see the artist blowing up a bubblegum ball and walls collaged with bubblegum. The title describes what the artist does and then reveals his objective—an over-the-top plan that throws off the balance between signified and signifier.

(this last painting is Bas's smorgasboard)