Monday, March 28, 2016

"Fountain 2.0: Is It Art?" The Centennial of Duchamp's Fountain Starts at The Museum of Ventura County by Alexey Steele


As we nearing a centennial of the work by Marcel Duchamp that many consider the most influential of the whole 20th century, it is a good time to re-process its impact. The 1917 Fountain and its cornerstone position for the  institutional establishment art of our day makes it  just as intellectually fascinating as on a day it was picked from J. L. Mott Iron Works in Brooklyn (or so we told) .

There is a very well known argument that lies in the very foundation of the Post Modernist philosophical doctrine.

It is taken currently as an article of faith by the  institutions of the official art establishment. This argument is attributed to the iconoclastic anti-establishment giant of the turn of the last century Marcel Duchamp and goes back to his 1917 “Fountain.” Though expressly not what he meant by his “Fountain,” the work presented a fascinating theoretical conundrum that resulted in a “Duchampian Argument.” It generally sums up today by  many as  “it is art by virtue of me, the maker, thinking, affirming it as art” or in Don Judd's formulation "what the artist calls art, is art". Countless characters out of a generation of “profiteers” in immortal definition of Allice Goodman fall back on this argument in their explanation for their important role within Post Modernist art. Tracey Emin used this line in describing why her Bed is considered art, Yuan Cai brought it up in explaining of him and his co-author Jian Jun Xi adding to it by urinating into Fountain’s Tate Modern version.

The obvious consequence of this statement, is two fold -  it is obvious that not any thought by anyone about anything being an art will make it accepted as art therefore a cast of inscrutable high priests with absolute authority is required to arbitrarily distinguish which thoughts and by whom shall be indeed considered the source of legitimate art. The "Thought Authority" so to speak. That is the point Arthur Danto persuasively makes in his famous and  consequential 1964 essay “The Artworld”.  Purely arbitrary subjectivism leads to a completely totalitarian structure within our current Post Modernist official art establishment that presides over perfect reflection and embodiment of the structural ideology of today's ruling class, the monopolistic corporatocracy.

My presentation at the TRAC 2014 art conference was centered around this argument and was very much and very perversely Duchamp-abscessed.  The more I thought about it afterwords, the more questions I had. What if I, the maker, don't know whether what I did is art or not? Would this sad fact make it less of an art, more of an art or be irrelevant to it actually being or not being art? So, for the show in conjunction with the TRAC 2015 conference at The Museum of Ventura County to help myself with this apprehension and as an extension of my previous years’ talk I thought of nothing better than doing a really silly piece half-in-jest. Yet, as we say in Russia "every joke has a fraction of a… joke".

What I came up with was a cheap modern urinal oddly similar to the original "Fountain" in shape. It is angled just enough to be viewable inside and that makes it perceived as an upside down. Its conceptual white purity and the institutional establishment sanctified iconic  status are brutally and with indignity vandalized and violated with my pathetic scribbles and markings, not unlike Duchamp’s own willful violation of the sacred cow of his time - Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. I signed it "R. Mutt Steele 2015" as a homage to a thoroughly heroic cultural trail blazer and iconoclast much as a reinforcement of the time bridge. I really and genuinely do not know whether it is art or not.  So, I titled the piece "Fountain 2.0: Is it Art?" with a question mark as opposite to” Duchampian” supposed affirmation.

The conceptual title picked by curators for our group show that included gorgeous works by my close artistic comrades-in-brush Jeremy Lipking, Tony Pro and Joseph Todorovitch is actually my personal and Classical Underground motto "In ART We Trust." Quite obviously opposite to Duchamp's sentiment. My other pieces on the show represented everything I deeply and firmly believe in.

Seeing that thing sitting in the middle of the room filed with some serious Art made me even more uncertain over its nature. So, to help me answer my anxiety I set up a real voting booth in front of it. Just like in other voting boxes - the objects representing the sacred act of democracy - it carried my Classical Underground insignia and notation "Your Vote Counts". The same insignia and notation were on the cover of a real voting ballot. Inside of the ballot was the title of the work "Fountain 2.0: Is it Art?"  followed by two check boxes: "Oh, Yeah!" and "Hell, No!". People actually voted vigorously. The museum has run out of printed ballots and had to replenish them.

When we had our “canvassing committee” count the ballots the result was pretty fascinating.

“Oh, Yeah!” – 91 votes, or 62.3%
“Hell, No!” – 46 votes, or 31.5%
Undecided – 9 votes, or 6.1% (that one just beats me)

With a total of 146 votes
Pretty fascinating on many levels.

There were also some awesome comments on the cards, both “Oh, Yeh!”, and “Hello, No!”
I personally liked the No comments even more.

Here’s some of my favorite:
For “Hell, No!”
“Sure, the first time it was”
“Duchamp yes – R.Mutt Briefly – A. Steele, too late! (Pathetic)”
Checked self-made square  “Eh”
“Its waste of time ppl need real hobbies”
and my all time favorite – “I nearly used it!”

On the “Oh, Yeah!” side:
“Yes, muy bien”
“It is something someone constructed to look good so Yes!”
“Isn’t everything?”
“Why not?”
“Yes, it is art”
“Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder”
“These are amazing”
“It is a work of art.”
“Not excited about the urinal but the art work is exceptional”
“All forms of art are art! No one is to judge what others think (scratched) portray as their own art!”

With some of them on both sides I would agree, with some, also on both sides, I would argue.

What was important for me though that the public had a very tangible way to get engaged into a discourse of what constitutes art. Not a small talk. 

What better way to open a centennial celebration of Duchamp's "seminal work" (did I really say that?) than to ask more questions that would challenge the foundation of today's art establishment the very same way he did in 1917?  

The museum was actually cool enough to set up a special web page where you can also cast your vote. The experiment in democratic nature of Art and who knows, maybe even of our society at this critical juncture continues!

Cheers to a Duchampian Revolution today!

So, is it
“Oh, Yeah!”


“Hell, No!”

and why

Your Vote Counts!


In ART we trust!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Jeremy Lipking's New Painting Previwed at Classical Underground

Classical Underground Showcase


"Between Past and Present" oil on linen 40" x 60"
Classical Underground is proud to showcase "Between Past and Present," a new important painting by Jeremy Lipking -- one of the greatest painters of our generation, and a longtime Undergrounder.
It is an utter joy to witness the continuous development of Jeremy's extraordinary talent. He invariably pushes the expressive possibilities of the painting medium with his exceptional hyper-understanding of tonal subtleties, manifested in the delicate color transitions within any value range, and superbly shaped into clear harmonies of compositional masses.  
In this new masterful painting completed for the upcoming Prix De West show and which we are fortunate to preview at Classical Underground, Jeremy is displaying  an unmistakable artistic maturing of subject matter, thematic depth, technical execution and compositional design. 
In Jeremy's new works we see magnificent examples of exciting  developments in the use of 21st century realism as a tool of deeply personal contemporary artistic expression.  This emerging form of realism that I call Novorealism is drastically different from photorealism of the past in its mechanisms and objectives, as well as standing in direct opposition to all basic principles of tired establishment post-modernism, which by now has primarily degraded to not much more than manifested excuses for hyper-greed. 
It is exciting to see LA on the forefront of the artistic search in the first quarter of the 21st century, as part of a multi - threaded tapestry within newly pluralistic and rich contemporary expression. 
in ART we trust!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Figure and Color in Stephen Mirich new Painting

"The Grunion Hunters" oil on board 36" x 48" 

April 27, 2015: Classical Underground is very happy to present the esteemed California plein air painter and passionate Undergrounder Stephen Mirich's new work "The Grunion Hunters". It is significant in a number of ways.
There are two great trends in California's serious contemporary representational art: a historically strong plein-air tradition, and a relatively recent classical figure movement.
California experience informs both venerable branches of the representational school. The strength of color tradition of the California plein air school informs the classical understanding of figure, while strong contemporary figurative representation influences the plein air approach, signifying the exciting phenomenon of this specifically Californian artistic "knowledge spill-over." Both trends inform each other, making them expand their boundaries and turning California today into the hotbed of a new representational movement.
Stephen's new work is an exciting example of such vibrant interaction. While successfully reconciling difficult coloristic problems, it ventures into capturing multiple figures embedded in moonlight. 

in ART we trust! 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Form Sense in George Carlson Sculpture


Classical Underground Showcase, March 23, 2015: George Carlson is one of the preeminent American representational artists of our time. Throughout his illustrious career, George has epitomized a kind of true Master rarely seen these days.
George possesses a unique Form Sense. This rare trained ability to grasp the dimensional subject in his mind opens the possibility to express form through various mediums. This is what gave the great Old Masters of Renaissance like Leonardo and Michelangelo their astonishing versatility.
Armed with such a sense, and not being limited to one particular technique or niche that many other even good artists might be exploiting their entire lives, George has left an equally important mark on both representational sculpture and painting.
Much like with giants of the Renaissance, the key to this seamless transition is a mastery of a very particular kind of dimension-focused figure drawing.  This is the secret to the unique and brilliant universality of his artistic perception that allows him to transfer his vast visual knowledge across different medium platforms, creating important contemporary works in all of them.
We are deeply honored to showcase this truly great living American Master.
Thank you to our good CU friends and artists Dan Pinkham and Tom Redfield for lending us George's magnificent works from their collections.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Humanity through visual power of Ignat Ignatov's work


Classical Underground Showcase, February 16, 2015: Ignat Ignatov is one of the most talented and dedicated artists of the newly emerging American figurative realism generation. In this very specific approach to ART it takes phenomenal effort to develop a phenomenal talent. The vast effort required to polish such talent to a level of serious artistic capability will not be necessarily supported by existing markets, which tend to favor easily digestible "commercial" fair. Certainly this enormous effort is not supported by the current post-modernist establishment. Elite artists like Ignat are pursuing a level of artistic perfection of which few are aware. This is why they push and expand the boundaries of human perceptional capabilities. This is why they make ART. Even the original modernists would be proud of what those few do now.

Basing their effort on classical tradition, they are making the next evolutionary step in aesthetic and perceptional development. I call this next step Novorealism. Some people call the period we are all part of Post-Contemporary.

As  evident in his figurative works' dedication to ever increasing artistic ability, it is just as important to note  Ignat's drive to put his expanding visual powers in service of the cause he believes in deeply. An ardent dog lover, he creates deeply heartfelt, poignant and compelling images of dogs in need of rescue. Here is where heart, mind and hand come together to give another evidence of Humanity. Go, Iggy!

Ignat Ignatov 

Monday, December 15, 2014

"Finishing Touches" by Aaron Westerberg

Classical Underground Showcase, December 15, 2014: Reexamining the tradition of figurative painting has been sweeping the Nation in the last decade. A growing group of young talents is choosing this venerated ART form as the perfect vehicle to express their contemporary experience.   

Aaron Westerberg is part of the new generation of California figurative painters.

Aaron grew up in San Diego.  It was a class in traditional life drawing that drew him to continue his art training.  He studied with Jeff Watts and attended the California Art Institute, where he himself later taught.

His work received the attention of such publications as Fine Art Connoisseur, Artist's Magazine and American Art Collector, and has been exhibited in fine art galleries throughout the United States and abroad.

Aaron Westerberg, "Finishing Touches" oil on canvas 32 x 24  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Leonid Steele: Artist, Master, Legend - The Legacy Lives!

CU Showcase Exhibition

Leonid Steele was an artistic giant with a remarkable life story. His career in art spanned an astounding 75 years.

The very first exhibition of his life was the 1939 World Fair in New York where he was part of the Soviet Children Art Pavilion. Recovering from a concussion during the war in Novosibirsk, he met and studied with the director of the famed Tretiakov Gallery who was evacuated to Siberia and who was one of the very few students of the great Russian Realist master, Isaac Levitan.


Leonid went to Repin Academy after the war and became part of the core generation that revived the full glory of classical Russian Academic tradition and method. He melted that capability into decades of fearless stylistic feats. He moved mountains in ART. He became one of the founding influences of the Severe Style with his 1958 "Dawn." He participated in 11 All-Union exhibitions, the most prestigious in the USSR, a rare fit for a maverick artist who enjoyed public love, but never held any official post in the soviet art bureaucracy. Because of such public love of his work, he had rare mass media coverage of his art totaling around 30 million in circulation.

His output is truly gigantic. He painted masterpieces. He loved life and was loved back generously. He loved people, and his own visual brand of humanistic rendition of the very depths in personal characters made him unique within Socialist Realism. He touched universal humanity while faithfully portraying a nation in its long and tumultuous stretch of history. His style could be termed Humanist Realism.

His legacy and his life's work are now an inseparable part of our common culture, much as his name now belongs fully to our common history.