Saturday, May 28, 2011

That Which Is Not Social Realism in the 21st Century

Part XIV of a series about the possibility of a rebirth of Social Realism in the Post Postmodern (Popomo) / Metamodern

Rereading my own suggested 21st Century Social Realists from the March 27th entry, I am amazed at the whacky list I posted. Perhaps I was desperate. First, Francis Bacon whose paintings quite possibly indicated a deep personal neurotic anger - was not trying to expose social wrongs - and most of his important work happened well before the Postmodern or the Post Postmodern (Popomo). Donigan Cummings work is a painful look at the human condition, and as such, fits a Popomo / Metamodernist position, but it does not speak directly to contemporary social/cultural ills. Nor does Charles Ray, though his work cross-examines cultural phenomenon, it is not critical; instead it is more a detached ironic observation of them. Kenny Scharf is a technical wizard, but a pop artist, not a social realist. At least Cindy Sherman's work touches on social realism obliquely because it makes us ask questions about our culture-wide clichés about women.


Cindy Sherman

Now, David Wojnarowicz is another story. He was an angry young man, but his artwork also called attention to the plight of gay men with AIDS in the America of his time. Unfortunately he died on the cusp of the Postmodern and the Post Postmodern. Thus, he cannot be of the Popomo/metamodern.

I am left with but three names from my list, Denis Peterson, Banksy, and Robert Longo, though Longo is questionable. So, I must continue my search for artists working in a Social Realist vein in this century.

* It is thought that one time use of an image (not in the public domain) for intellectual purpose qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Thunderhead #2

Another picture from the May 14th evening walk with family.

This is the briefest of entries in months, but I’m desperate to get a particularly complicated pastel painting finished, and it is taking up my days.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thunderhead (May 14, 2011)

Saturday evening - family visiting so we walk to the intracoastal in the evening after a sudden thunderstorm appears out of nowhere, blows through with squalling wind and a splash of rain cools the air. Now the lowering sun shines from a deep blue sky, with brilliant piles of white, yellow, and orange cumulonimbus on the eastern horizon, and our conversation weaves a tapestry through the light and color. We have cameras with us so we can take the usual family snapshots. Instead we take a hundred pictures of clouds reflecting in the water, the full moon nestled between two nimbus knobs or the flying metal egg that holds one-hundred-and-twenty strangers safe, a tiny arrow piercing the storm.

I love these people, the storm, the sun, rain and plane. All my family, including those lost, and those not present walked with me last Saturday beneath that cobalt, cerulean and indigo heaven, all of us golden in the storm’s sun-reflection. Looking at this photo my senses are filled to over flowing not because of artifice or art.

– memory.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Robert Longo

Part XIII of a series about the possibility of a rebirth, or at least the presense of Social Realism in the Post Postmodern (Popomo) / Metamodern.


Oscillation (Media)

Charcoal on mounted paper, C-print, charcoal and Ink on mounted paper, C-print mounted on museum board, charcoal, graphite, ink and chalk on vellum, brass & copper bullets and steel, charcoal and graphite on paper, raw pigment and medium on unprimed canvas, cast wax, calcinated wood, oil and paint, cast bronze, Silkscreen and enamel on aluminum; acrylic and oil on wood, Acrylic and charcoal on shaped canvas; cast bronze on motorized platform of steel and wood, film.

I make some Comments based on the list

The only reason for the use of any of the above media/materials seems to be the following. Whatever it takes to complete the artist’s vision! The list is ordered temporally from the media used in the most recent to the oldest artworks. There was no method to my madness. I did notice that Robert Longo often returns to charcoal and/or graphite on paper as a preferred medium, and that created an oscillation or movement between and among all other media and this preferred black and white medium.

List of Some of the Most Recent Artworks with sizes included

The Mysteries - God Machines, Untitled (White Tiger) 94.5 x 70 inches, Synagogue 120 x 300 inches, untitled (North Cathedral) 70 x 117, untitled (my wife, Barbara, in a Burka) 96 x 70 inches, Daddy’s Caddy 59&3/8 x 96 inches. Yingxiong, Heroes – Iceman 40 & 1/8 x 46 inches, Starbuck 45 & 15/16 x 39 & 15/16 inches, Ulysses 80 x 70 inches. Balcony – Angel 58 x 70 inches, Gloria 58 x 96 inches, Untitled (No. 2) 41 7 1/8 x 91 & ½ inches. Perfect Gods, 2007 – Untitled (Big Shark) 73 & 1/8 x 70 inches, Untitled (Shark 4) 88 x 70 inches, Untitled (Claudius) 70 x 96 inches. Heritage, 2006 – Untitled (after C B.) 3 & 1/16 x 5 & 11/16 inches, Untitled (After Delacroix, The Barque of Dante – 1822) 5 & ½ x 7 & 3/8 inches, Untitled (After Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ, 1602) 5 & 11/16 x 7 & 11/16 inches, Untitled (After Picasso, Guernica, 1937) 3 & ½ x 7 & ¾ inches, Untitled (After Rauschenberg, Retroactive, 1, 1964) 6 & ¼ x 4 & ½ inches. The Sickness of Reason, 2003 – (Untitled, Bikini Atol/1946) 72 x 96 inches, Mike Test (Head of Goya), 72 x 96 inches, Russian Bomb (Them) Semipalatinsk.

I Make Some Comparisons Based on the Above List.

I stopped the list of artworks at 2003 simply because to continue cataloging titles of artwork and dimensions would be pointless, unless that were the reason for making this journal entry. Actually, if I were a schizophrenic Metamodernist, perhaps that would be a cool option, but pointless, and I’m sure Popomo / Metamodern artists do not consider their work to be pointless. Besides, I can draw a conclusion based on the various sizes of these artworks because they range from Brobdingnagian to miniature in scale. Personally, I like to work large because it is easier. I don’t know if that would be true for all artists, and I wonder why Robert Longo decided to oscillate between these two opposing scales. In the “Heritage” series he pays homage to the masters of the past, so why make these black and white charcoal miniatures about the great masters of the past so small? How are they less important than his artwork which are normally large in scale? A bit of ironic reference to his ego, perhaps. Perhaps he is simply contrasting two ways of working, “here are these little tiny drawings. Look at them next to my huge drawings.” Does he like the challenge created by working on such a small scale? I have question after question, and I wonder what Robert Longo's actual response to these questions would be.

It’s time for another list, though this one is short. *

1970’s – Robert Longo’s Menthol Wars, a punk rock act in which he was also lead guitarist.

1980’s – music videos like Bizarre Love Triangle, New Orders, Peace Sells, and The One I love.

1980’s – Album Covers - Glenn Branca's The Ascension from 1981 and The Replacements' 1985 album, Tim.
Mid 1980’s - Opera XS: The Opera Opus with Rys Chatham and Joseph Nechvatal

1995 – Motion picture, Johnny Mnemonic, and other short pieces.

So, in addition to all the media listed in the first section above, we must add, motion picture film. We must also note that Robert Longo has created album covers for musical groups, has had his own musical group in which he played guitar, and made images that were used in opera, a kind of music/drama.

I have a little something in common with the artist

I first became aware of Longo’s work with his “Men in the Cities” series, 1979.

I was also working on over sized graphite on paper portraits of great Twentieth Century Iconic figures at the time, though I hesitate to compare my work to those of this great master - simply a mark of the zeitgeist, I suppose. Never the less, the “Men in the Cities” series were captivating because the figures seemed to be caught in a spasmodic dance, the response to a sudden nervous shock, pain and/or anguish. With interest sparked because we both were working in the same medium, I continued to follow his career to the present. I've found Robert Longo to be the perfect Metamodernist. His work oscillates between various genres and media, sometimes huge and sometimes Lilliputian, sometimes painful, sometimes ironic. The work may be black and white or color, 3 dimensional, 2 dimensional or a combination. He often uses extremely large images drawn with charcoal and/or graphite or ink on paper in a photorealistic style with extreme contrast that lends weight and emphasis to subjects like, sharks, nuclear explosions, and cyborg-like human heads. Robert Longo, a Renaissance man is an amazing prolific artist, whose oeuvre implies an oscillation between and among visual and musical arts, as well as a Social Realist movement in the past, and his tangential Metamodern interest in making clear and present a dark and dangerous presence that threatens our diurnal existence.

Notes *

Smulders, Caroline and Perlein, Gilbert, Robert Longo. Skira Rizzoli (2010).

Longo, Robert, Wikipedia, Viewed 10:00 AM. EDT. Thursday, May 12, 2011

Longo, Robert, Website,, viewed 10:30 AM. EDT, Thursday, May 12, 2011.

"Long Playing". Barbara Krakow Gallery. Retrieved May 3, 2010. Viewed 10:34 AM. EDT. Thursday, May 12, 2011

*2 Longo, Robert, "Russian Bomb (Them) Semipalatinsk" from The Sickness of Reason, (2003). Robert Long Website at Viewed 12:04 AM EDT, Saturday, May 14, 2011. One time use of an image for academic purposes is a legitimate use of copyrighted material.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Notes on “Notes on Metamodernism”

Part XII of a series about the possibility of a rebirth of Social Realism in the Post Postmodern (Popomo). These are some rough ruminations based on my first LATE NIGHT reading of “Notes on Metamodernism” by Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker. *

Water Sports, by yours truly is about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and clean v. dirty water, use of that clean v. dirty water by mankind, political policy concerning clean air and water v dirty air and water, and my distressed and jaded but hopeful feelings(literally - the technique used in the artwork is mixed media distressed paint) about clean v. dirty water. Can Water Sports be a Metamodern artwork?

Ontologically, Metamodernist oscillates between the modern and the postmodern. It oscillates between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy, between naïveté and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity. Indeed, by oscillating to and fro or back and forth, the Metamodernist negotiates between the modern and the postmodern. One should be careful not to think of this oscillation as a balance however; rather, it is a pendulum swinging between 2, 3, 5, 10, innumerable poles. Each time the metamodern enthusiasm swings toward fanaticism, gravity pulls it back toward irony; the moment its irony sways toward apathy, gravity pulls it back toward enthusiasm.

There are at least two things problematic about these notions. First, the description prevents imbalance (though the authors are careful to point out that the oscillation isn't balanced) from existing, since “gravity pulls it back” from whichever extreme the metamodern has temporarily inhabited. And that is precisely because the metamodern – if there actually is such a thing, and I haven’t conceded to that – describes a position that is jaded to the point of believing that destructive forces are unavoidable, and simultaneously naïve enough to hope for avoidance. It is like a double negative being positive, or perhaps more like having your cake and eating it too, or not. Secondly, why “gravity,” a physical force when talking about social/cultural phenomenon? What other force/forces might there be that are social/cultural, as opposed to physical? Additionally, gravity pulls toward a physical mass at the center to which things become attached, unable to oscillate. Is there another physical science metaphor that works better? Vermeulen and van den Akker also use the term Rhizomatic to describe the theorized metamodern.*2 I get the reference to Deleuze and Guattari's (D&G) "Rhizome." I just don't like it because it doesn't work. Let me explain. In botany, a rhizome is a type of root/bulb that inhabits the soil’s surface and sends out roots horizontally through just the top layer. The roots develop new rhizomes at their ends so that new plants, replicas of the original occur at the periphery of an ever-widening free form shape. Over time, the original rhizome becomes less and less effective and the center area dies out as the rhizomes spread from the center. Thus, the Rhizomatic model is 2-dimensional, and there is no biological center through which the metamodern is able to oscillate. In order for any all of the components to oscillate between each and every possible other opposition, the model of necessity must be three dimensional. Also, the new rhizomes are identical copies of the original and each other. There is no radicalization as D&G would have it. In either case, Vermeulen and van den Akker are using mixed metaphors. Is the metamodern more like a botanical process by way of D&G's "Rhizome," or a physical process? If it is like a combination of the two, then that complication must be stated and reconciled. One can always use subversive radicalization as an excuse. However, if we try for poetic license and mixed metaphor by way of D&G's version of Schizophrenia then we must also state that to be the case. Never assume that the reader can follow willy-nilly, and that is my main criticism of D&G's A Thousand Plateaus as well. The reader is expected to follow willy-nilly the most complicated explication of subversive radicalization of plurality extant.

A way out?

One particular theory in science maintains that the physical universe is made up entirely of energy and mostly empty space, that material things are no more than organized energy. In one variation of that theory, all wave patterns are made up of particles of energy, and waves of various lengths can interact with one another in such a way as to create oscillations, fluctuations between various frequencies. If instead of looking at this after-the-Postmodern period in a mash of literary, biological, and Newtonian metaphor, if instead we use physical science exclusively doesn’t that do the deed as metaphor for Vermeulen and van den Akker’s Oscillating Metamodernism? Thus the formula is not D&G's"n-1," but TE for total energy = PE for particle energy + OE (organized energy or matter) where matter can be any/all kinds of matter, and both sides of the equation are interchangeable. *3

According to these young philosophers – and I always maintained that the thing which was to come after the Postmodern would be understood first by the younger generation, certainly not mine - the Metamodern is transcendental in that it oscillates between and among all kinds of binaries. Evidently, it does not ever inhabit the pairs of opposites. What does that mean for understanding the processes within a philosophy that is positioned beyond the Postmodern? While not inhabiting the binary oppositions avoids the Postmodern predicament, it also implies a willful distancing from an understanding of the actual complicated interactions between the two terms in oppositional disparities.

Before ending these perambulatory first ramblings, let me be clear. I’m playing the part of devils advocate because I’m actually starting to pitch for Vermeulen and van den Akker’s invention of and theorizing about metamodernism. I much prefer it to the theories that a Post Postmodern (Popomo) is a banal inhabition of the Twenty-first Century electronic technologies.


*1 Vermeulen, Timotheus and Van den Akker, “Notes on Metamodernism, Journal of Aesthetics & Culture eISSN 2000-4214, on the Web at, Viewed Wednesday, 7:57 PM, May 4, 2011. This journal is published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License. Responsible editor: Astrid Söderbergh Widding.

*2 Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix A Thousand Plateaus, trans.Brian Masumi. London and New York: Continuum (2004)

*3 Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix A Thousand Plateaus, University of Minnesota Press (1987) Introduction - "n-1" (p7).

Monday, May 2, 2011

I Couldn’t Sleep at all Last Night, (1961) Bobby Lewis

We interrupt this blog

Obama got Osama! That was all over the Internet by eleven-thirty last night.

I was watching an episode of GLEE, finished and turned the DVD player off. And, what to my wondering eyes did appear? Safari was opened to CNN and at the top of the page the headline, “OSAMA BIN LADEN DEAD.” I had to pinch myself. Was it true? Nine Eleven happened almost ten years ago. George W. Bush had sworn to get bin Laden, and hadn’t succeeded during his eight-year presidency. We aren't even through Obama's second year, and Osama bin Laden is dead. Really!?! Evidently I had come to believe this would never-ever happen. I went to my partner’s room and we turned the TV to CNN, saw the rebroadcast of President Obama’s announcement.

Yes, the bastard was finally dead!

I'M PLEASED AS PUNCH. But, I shouldn't be - "A tooth for a tooth," and all that.

Then, I lay awake most of the night thinking about the apocalyptic first decade of this century, how every waking moment of everyone’s life was affected by the horror we watched unfold on that beautiful, clear late summer morning of September 11, 2001. How increasingly ultraconservative fundamental forces on opposite sides, here at home and in the middle-east were actively pursuing a course toward a Twenty-first Century Crusade, first one war, then a second, and finally, this year to everyone’s amazement, the Arab World goes nuclear with revolution, country after country seeking democratic freedom.

Tossing and Turning, and laying awake some more...

Bin Laden is dead! Damned amazing! So now, what? Of course, some crazies will come up with conspiracy theories that bin Laden’s death is a U.S. government hoax, or even more bizarre, it is Obama's hoax. There will be attempts at retaliation against the USA by al-Qaeda. But, what happens with these nascent Arab revolutions? Do they grow toward sectarian democracies or do some/all become fundamentalist Islamic religious states like Iran? Will the USA finally develop a foreign policy that actually fights against Islamic Terrorists rather than nation/states? Will fundamentalist religious fanaticism grow or diminish? More questions, elation, worry… over and over…

I just couldn’t sleep at all last night!

And, finally, I found this, posted today by a friend on Facebook.

"I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." ~Martin Luther King Jr

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Part XI of a series about the possibility of a rebirth of Social Realism in the Post Postmodern (Popomo) / Metamodern

Banksy, perhaps Robin Cunningham, born in Bristol, England July 28, 1973, is a not exclusively graffiti artist, who uses his often-stenciled street art to make satirical social and political commentary. There are several photographs that are purported to be of Banksy, though no actual proof exists that these are indeed of Banksy. Banksy’s artwork spans two decades, beginning in Bristol in 1992, and includes the documentary film, Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) which was nominated in January of this year for the Academy Award for Best Documentary. Subversive in style, his artwork often appears on site during the night - graffiti that vandalizes public space according to his critics who include the organization “keep Britain Tidy,” and the Guardian Newspaper through columnist, Charlie Brooker - makes it necessary to keep his identity a closely held secret (sort of). However, Banksy also makes sculpture and standard painted art, even film when necessary to get his subversive message across.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

Among Banksy’s art themes - anti-war, anti-authoritarianism, anti-capitalist, and existentialism, in which he uses children, old people, and rats as illustrative elements - many if not most of the artwork I saw can be categorized as social realism. Often witty aphorisms are part of his street art. Interestingly, after spending so much time looking at and thinking about Banksy’s artwork, I decided that it necessitates a new category that would oscillate between and among social realist art with politically subversive art and street art, painting, film and remotely, assemblage/sculpture. And, perhaps art that does all those things is one piece of this Popomo or Metamodernist period of the early Twenty-first Century.

The reader should “google” Banksy if he/she wishes to look more deeply into this prolific artist’s work. Banksy’s own Website has the most complete showing of his artwork, but no information about the artist’s background, his thought process or philosophy. There’s a plethora of other Websites about him, though the most informative and up to date is the Wikipedia entry.