Wayne Michael Reich

Writing ∙ Photography ∙ Art

CLASSIC ARTBITCH: “My New Favorite Hack” [Originally published 11/2006]

Hello Blogiteers!

While I am working on my newest Anti New Times Blog, I decided to repost some of my past writings that some of you newer blogiteers may not be familiar with. And while at first glance this may seem an obvious effort to buy time while I write some new material, it is also a way for me to look back on some of my favorite rants, hence, this “Classic Artbitch” which was suggested to me by Renee Ja- T

hanks, Renee! So, as a first offering, I present an art critique I wrote for www.PhoenixArtSpace,com way back in November of 2006. So sit back and enjoy my early snarkiness.

Phoenix native and nationally recognized painter/photographer Wayne Michael Reich shares a critical perspective on the renowned contemporary abstract painter, Byron Kim, currently hanging in the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

“Art is about making something out of nothing, and then selling it.” – Frank Zappa

As a professional artist I love going out to see shows and exhibitions, mainly to glean inspiration for my own work, but more importantly – to practice in an artist’s second favorite activity:

The Art of Criticism. Taking me to a poorly planned exhibition is akin to turning loose a great white shark in a kiddy pool filled with, how do you say, zaftig children?

As the title of the book says, nobody here gets out alive. Now, in the past, these were the artist’s I loved to trash the most:

1) Richard Serra:  cutting a giant square out of steel does not a sculptor make, nor does painting a large giant square on a canvas give you the right to call yourself a painter.

2) Mark Kostabi: try painting your own canvases instead of paying others to do it for you and maybe one day you’ll be all grown up. Till then, be quiet and have a cookie.

3) Damien Hirst: dissecting a shark into slices and then displaying them in hanging tanks of Formaldehyde is not art: it’s science. And it’s just a bit creepy, don’t you think?

4) Thomas Kinkade: don’t even get me started. Seriously…we’ll be here all night.

Worthless hacks – all of them without peer, or so I thought. I was wrong. In the words of Jody Watley, “I have found a new love, Baby”. And boy, does he get my bile flowing. Much like sitting through an episode of FOX “news”. The late Andy Warhol once said to an errant newspaper reporter:

“If you want to know me, look at the surface of my paintings, and there I am.”

When Andy uttered those soon to be famous lines back in the 60’s, he could have hardly foreseen how that random quote would perfectly encapsulate the work of abstract artist Byron Kim, whose newest show, “Threshold”, is currently hanging at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. [aka, SMoCA.] Whereas Warhol’s detachment from his work was a consciously acted façade, designed in part to make the work and its creator seem hip and edgy, Kim just comes off as a student who never paid attention in class.

Specifically, the design and execution courses. His current retrospective show is an uneven melange of tired cliches and flavorless execution made more infuriating by the following praise:

 “The honesty and freshness Kim brings to abstract painting distinguish him as one of the most important artists of his generation.”

It’s an unusually high level of exaltation, especially after having seen the visual hollowness that is his life’s work. The exhibition’s synergistic center, “Synecdoche”, consists of a grid of 400 identically sized monochromatic wood rectangles, each based on the skin color of various people who “posed” for the artist over the course of a year from 1991 to 1992. The esthetics of the work are described in the Exhibition’s catalog as: “The painting is simultaneously a composite portrait of the ‘body politic,’ a commentary on definitions of race and a minimalist grid newly imbued with real-world meaning. Visually, it is a subtle and exquisitely elegant spectrum of entirely another sort.”

Yes, one could say that. But where have I seen its artistic doppelganger? Ah yes….the sample rack of my local tile and stone flooring store. When I first gazed upon this juggernaut of a monstrosity, with its rectangles of pinks, browns and sickly beiges, my first thought was this: “You know, Rene was right- Moroccan Sand would look good in the bathroom, since it matches my towels.”

So, thanks Byron for helping out my designer- my bathroom looks great! The second thought that entered my head was that somehow Willy Wonka had enlarged a Max Factor tester display from Macys, and hung it on the wall. Kim’s other forays of abstraction derive from personal memories that in turn inspire his one-off monochromatic paintings.

One series which I did find interesting was based on an experiment in emotional remembrances. Kim sent paint samples books to his immediate family members and asked them to identify the colors used within his childhood home. The way each relative remembered a certain detail [i.e. “this is the color of the kitchen cabinets”] was very interesting to process, but as a display was too small and poorly set up in an awkward section of the gallery.

One 84 by 60 inch square canvas, said to represent a Koryo dynasty Korean tea cup that was a family heirloom, was painted in one unvarying shade of Celadon Green thereby presenting itself as a highly unimaginative attempt at channeling Mark Rothko. If you’re going to take others ideas, Byron, please try to get it right. But the artistic morass was just beginning to get deeper. On the opposite wall, three other large monochromatic canvases were hung.
Their titles were in order: “White Canvas 1”, “White Canvas 2“, “White Canvas 3“.

Wow. How [yawn] original. However, I re-dubbed them with a more appropriate series name: “The Chiclet Paintings” Because that’s what they looked like. White. All white. Three large unbroken squares of white. Yep. Pure white. Not eggshell or that nutty color, ecru. Heck no. No texture, totally smooth. Square. No radical circles here, kids!

It was like being trapped inside an aspirin bottle. Which after seeing this show, gave me pause to forcefully ingest the contents of one. So, in gratitude for this experience, I name Byron Kim as my new number one hack! Call me baby, and we’ll paint.  Except mine will actually look like something, so you might want to take notes.

May I suggest writing on one of those white canvases? You do have the room, you know.