this summer we went to see two exhibitions in Los Angeles – one was in nearby Pasadena (Clayton Brothers: Inside Out) and the other was in downtown at the MOCA and called Art in the Streets, a mammoth retrospective of graffiti and street art going back to the very beginnings...
Clayton Brothers do life-scale shacks and diorama-type things, lots of stuff based on old illustrative styles, newspaper fonts, etc – readymades either literally or in inspiration, but the overall agglomeration of it tinged towards the surreal-creepy-macabre-twisted... a sort of dayglo American-Gothic
At Art in the Streets, a lot of the more recent work involved very large pieces, real-size reproduction of actual real-world stuff – like a bodega, with cans of vegetables etc – or a shabby taxi hire office in a shady part of town, those band or advertising or prostitute type stickers stuck over every surface – one artist (Neckface, we used to see his graff in our old neighbourhood in the East village) did a thing that was literally street art -- the recreation of a dark, dank alley in a scary, grotty part of NYC, complete with a sleeping bum.
Anyway this got me thinking... about readymades and collage, the tradition that starts with Duchamp... with Schwitters with the merzbau and the merzhaus... then proceeds through Lichenstein, Warhol, Richard Hamilton.... Lari Pitman, whose work draws on decorative and kitschy-retro graphics and fonts... Jeff Koons.... and then into the post-graffiti/hip hop era with people the Alleged Art crew (heavily present at this exhibition)... some of whom were into stuff like the tags left by hobos on the side of railcars, or they were into tattoos... the late Margaret Kilgannen of Alleged used a lot of commercial imagery... hand-painted shop front signage, imagery from advertisements in old magazines... in the Alleged crew doc Beautiful Losers she says something about how "all this stuff becomes interesting to me when it's no longer selling anything to me"-- in other words, once it's divorced from commerce in the immediate here-and-now, it becomes capable of being aestheticized, which is a great description of how vintage chic works
but what struck me about all this in connection with Art in the Streets and Clayton Brothers is that underpinning the whole century-long thing was one idea – a REALLY BIG idea - which is treating the objects of manufactured modernity as if they were nature, as beautiful as a tree or landscape... (c.f. James Ferraro's description of Far Side Virtual as "the still life of now" - the audio and video landscape of our digitized, augmented daily surroundings)
but also it’s a move of taking the non-art, the infra-art, and just moving it across a line... commerce because culture, the mass produced aura-less product becomes the one-off, aura-full handcrafted object ready for the art market
And as the Ferraro comparison suggests, it's the same move being made by the hauntologists and the hypnagogics (a lot of post-Ferraro music is Pop Art meets psychedelia), with some psychedelics thrown in), you take what is deemed beneath or outside Proper Serious Rock-as-Art, so that would be ancient cheese pop or mainstream AOR or library music (in the case of hauntology) or with Ferraro now it's ringtones and computer start-up jingles and so forth i.e. today's equiv to library/Muzak... and ythen ou say well actually if you tilt your head this way slightly , it’s sublime – or even (upping the ante) in some cases it’s just better and more weird than self-conscious Arty art-rock.
And then the art work for a lot of those hypnagogic cassettes is chopped-up magazine images (eyes, lips etc) like a more grotesque and cack-handed version of what the British Pop Artists did... like the popcult unconscious throwing up all over the page (and that's no diss, i love all that artwork)
the low > high context-shift
Nicholas Katranis calls this artistic move "looking at what is right in front of you"
for most people now means that what they can find on the internet, what’s trawl-able on YouTube etc etc
e.g. oneohtrix scavenging for alchemy-susceptible materials on YouTube, the stuff that’s beneath consideration...
what I'm a-wonderin' is whether the BIG IDEA that i mentioned, whether that is so very very BIG -so fundamental and capacious in scope and potential - that it can just carry on and on and on... or is it a 20th Century idea that has just lingered a bit into the next century and hangs on while we all try to think of somewhere new to go?
post-script: what do you know, Aaron Rose, the guy who co-curated Art in the Streets and was owner and director of Alleged Art (and also directed the Beautiful Losers doc) has co-written a book called Collage Culture: Examining the 21st Century's Identity Crisis that looks to be a rather Retromaniac-al polemic ("why has the 21st century become an era of collage, in which creative works are made by combining elements from the former century?", "THE PAST MUST NO LONGER SERVE AS OUR MASTER") which sorta suggests that even as he was pulling together the exhibition he might have been having similar anxieties as i did looking at it
you can check it out here: http://collageculture.com/
here's what he says in an interview with Oyster:
"Everything in this world is built on references. I don’t think that’s really such a problem, that’s part of the creative process. Although where the amount of original input is below 5%, that’s when I feel like there’s maybe a problem... I think the contemporary art world is horrible [as an offender]! And in music. Music, I think, is really bad. Music videos, especially — horrible — are like, basically just taking things frame for frame."