When I started this blog I was hoping to not write exclusively about middle-aged/mid-career artists who exhibit at well-publicized galleries, but then again with the handful of posts on this blog I often say one thing and do another (an apology to Jay Sanders' White Column show...that will be posted one day...). So with that pseudo-caveat in mind, I'd like to focus some attention on Jutta Koether's current show at Reena Spaulings. Consisting of a single painting--a punkish copy of a Poussin landscape memorializing Lux Interior's passing--the show like many of her other shows leans heavy on its own posturing. Koether, in fact, specializes in turning aesthetic posturing/posing into artistic praxis.
Where Sherrie Levine clinically fucks/fucks with the paternal (im)postures of modern art, Koether doles out a far sloppier hate-fuck to her aesthetic "dads". Or at least Koether used to... This last statement is far more reserved to her eighties work and its malicious treatment of neoexpressionism's political conservatism. Her newer work (and this show in particular) is steeped in a posthistorical melancholy that finds artistic, political and/or libidinal death more productive than the life of such things. While this is certainly not a politically abject reaction to such a posthistorical moment--consider for a moment neo-nazism, born-again christianity and islamic fundamentalism as politically opposite responses to the same social conditions--it is certainly not without its problems. Or maybe just annoyances...
Taking as a cue TJ Clark's most recent book, "The Sight of Death," (to the detriment of this piece of writing, I haven't read the book) and its reconsideration of Poussin in the spectacularized canons of modern political and aesthetic history, Koether seeks to animate Poussin in an act of melancholic détournment; analogizing Poussin's pastoral deaths with the dumb, slow death of punk. This is where the problems begin to emerge... Koether's détournment seems to operate not dissimilarly from assembling pictures for the interest section of their myspace page (or a blog, for that matter). See the archive she has assembled an archive in book form for the show for one example... or better yet, just notice how her always referential, expanded approach to art production fills out all the necessary interest sections (about me; who I'd like to meet; music; movies; TV; books; heros). Where someone like Terence Koh (almost goes without saying, one of the worst possible artists exhibiting today) becomes an artist through their makeout club page that mixes James Lee Byars and homoeroticism (or was it livejournal?) it becomes clear that nowadays, given a "profile" or a "handle" (or an art gallery), everyone détourns spectacular words and images to suit their visual-libidinal needs.
But is this in fact a problem? Digital fatherfucking in the Levine tradition? or as I suggested before, just an annoyance? An annoyance that celebrated contemporary artistry might amount to little more than spectacular bricolage? It is curious to see that Koether's artistic celebrity did gain greater ground the more myspace/facebook became a legitimate social phenomenon.
While I have yet to read Clark's book, I did happen to read Giorgio Agamben's recent(ish) book "The Open," which includes a Benjamin-ian rumination on the two post-coital lovers of Titian's painting, "Nymph and Shepherd," as a means of giving light to the political aporia of posthistory/posthumanity. Where Clark and Koether emphasize the political elegy of love's suicidal potential, Agamben sees Titian's lovers (complete with a horny goat in the background) as figures whose act of love potentially "unworks" the political anthropology of post-history (specifically the biopolitical definition of "human").
"Bare or clothed, they are no longer either concealed or unconcealed--but rather, inapparent. As is clear from the posture of the two lovers and the flute taken from their lips, their condition is otium, it is workless. In their fulfillment, the lovers who have lost their mystery contemplate a human nature rendered perfectly inoperative." (Agamben, 87)
Where some see death, others see the life good sex brings...