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Willem de Kooning’s difficult masterpieces, recently so unfashionable, can now be seen with new eyes. De Kooning’s work for decades was virtually blacklisted by Greenbergian formalists, but MoMA makes amends with a well-chosen and complex survey. “Willem de Kooning, A Retrospective” at MoMA to January 9 is the must-see of the fall season. Jackson Pollock was great, but so was de Kooning, and we are here reminded why.
Of course, the single minded cannot allow anything but a single line. Art-historical descent does not allow dissent, or anything beyond clear-cut teleology. De Kooning’s error is that he seemed not to have left behind descendants who needed justification by patrimony to boost their prices, whereas Pollock supposedly fathered Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski, and maybe, just maybe, Kenneth Noland. We need a new schemata.
Last season’s MoMA survey of Abstract Expressionism was not good enough to bend the curve. The MoMA de Kooning show might. Anger, angst, and ambiguity can no longer be repressed. De Kooning descended from Picasso; Pollock from Thomas Hart Benton.
In Artopia, art is gender-neutral. This does not mean we deny that women, for one reason or another, cannot offer art that deals with what are sometimes called “women’s issues.” And men can deal with “women’s issues” too, or for that matter, topics deemed male or manly by our weird little culture: sports, war, guns and cars (as if women were immune to these). Nor do we need to ban particularly womanly subjects such as birth or menopause. In fact, participant perspectives are always worth having, as I think Judy Chicago proved ages ago, with both her Dinner Party and The Birth Project.
The point is that unless you are ridiculous enough to hold to the old-fashioned notion that art itself is gender-specific (i.e., specific to males), it behooves us to look at the art itself. Some men have mothers, wives, daughters and want to know what goes on inside of their heads. If we need art at all — and we do, now more than ever — we cannot afford to avoid more than half of the art produced, simply because men have not produced it.
Statistically, more male than female artists are famous, but this is merely documentation of oppression, or at best the sociological facts. In our culture, little girls are expected to be “artistic.” In spite of this, some of them go on to art school and actually develop the notion they can be full-fledged culturistadors, on a par with Michelangelo and van Gogh.
So the short answer to my question is that women artists want to be treated fairly as artists. Women want success.
Let us leave aside for the moment the definition of success that equates it with commerce. Even what we might call spiritual success in art is dependent upon support systems and supportive persons, but at this late date, when feminism is thought to have won out, there are few fully developed support systems and support persons for women artists, even among women. Show me the art dealer who represents more than one or two women artists; show me the art critic, male or female, who writes about more than one or two female art stars; show me the collector who puts her money where her gender is.